Uruguayan pro-government Senator Gustavo Penadés after leaving the Prosecutor's Office in Montevideo on May 25, 2023. (Credit: DANTE FERNANDEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
(CNN Spanish) -- The Chamber of Senators of Uruguay unanimously approved on Wednesday the removal of the immunity of Senator Gustavo Penadés, one of the main articulators of the government in the Uruguayan Parliament, to be investigated for eight complaints of sexual abuse of minors. Penadés, who denies the accusations, resigned from the ruling National Party.
Although there was unanimity in the vote in the Senate, there was still a strong debate regarding the arguments and motives. Carmen Asiaín, an informant member of the ruling party, demanded confidentiality for the case, in defense of the "principle of innocence that governs until the Justice determines prior investigation and compliance with the guarantees of due process, otherwise, by means of a sentence."
- Uruguay's Prosecutor's Office Requests the Removal of Senator Gustavo Penadés' Immunity for Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors
Meanwhile, Senator Jose Carlos Mahia spoke for the opposition, who said that "there is no precedent in the Senate of the Republic that a case of requesting the removal of immunity of the characteristics we have under study has been addressed." He added that these are "despicable crimes and called for the "safeguarding first of the victims and also in full compliance with the applicable regulations, which is the guarantee for all parties."
Investigation against Penadés
Prosecutor Alicia Ghione has been investigating the case for two months, which began after the public statements of Romina Celeste Papasso, a militant of the ruling National Party, the same as Penadés. Papasso said the senator paid her in exchange for sex when she was 13, 17 years ago. From that complaint, at least seven other adolescents and people now adults also denounced Penadés before the same Prosecutor's Office, which took their statements, reported the spokesman of the Prosecutor's Office.
On Thursday, May 25, it was the turn of the senator himself, one of the main pro-government leaders in the Uruguayan Senate, to testify. After testifying for an hour and a half, Penadés told reporters, "I don't regret anything because I didn't commit any crime." At the end of March, after the first complaint against him, Penadés had given a message to the press in which he denied the accusations of sexual exploitation.
Both Interior Minister Luis Alberto Heber and President Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou initially gave their support to the senator. Heber said he stood behind his "friend." "I continue to support and believe in my friend's version," he told El Espectador radio. Something similar was stated by the president of Uruguay, at a press conference, on May 11. He said he has known the senator for 30 years and that "I would be a bad friend if I didn't believe him, I wouldn't be a friend, I wouldn't have confidence."
A few weeks later, on June 3, the president clarified: "the issue is in Justice, the complaints are many, from what I have been able to find out they are serious." "I hope that Justice will rule as soon as possible declaring him innocent or guilty; If the latter happens, obviously there is an issue of personal consequences that you will imagine is very strong," he added.
The spokesman for the Prosecutor's Office clarified that the request for the removal of immunity was to "deepen the investigation" and does not in itself mean "an attribution of responsibility." Once the immunity has been lifted, the Prosecutor's Office can move forward with the investigation and, if it so decides, prosecute the senator like any other citizen.
Child sexual abuse