Uruguay VP resigns amid allegations of credit-card graft

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2014 file photo, Vice President Raul Sendic waves to supporters during a victory rally in Montevideo, Uruguay. Sendic resigned Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, amid corruption allegations. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico, File)

Uruguay's vice president has resigned amid allegations of corruption stemming from his tenure as head of state oil company ANCAP

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Uruguay's vice president resigned Saturday amid allegations of corruption stemming from purported credit-card misuse during his tenure as head of state oil company ANCAP.

Raul Sendic announced his departure after a tribunal of his political party determined he may have engaged in "unacceptable use of public funds" and accused him of lying in his defense.

The allegations surfaced in June, when the weekly publication Busqueda reported that between 2010 and 2013, Sendic used corporate credit cards to make purchases at jewelry, electronics, furniture and other stores apparently unrelated to his official business. Journalists Patricia Madrid and Viviana Ruggiero later published a book showing copies of the credit card statements.

Appearing before the tribunal, Sendic was unable to explain the purchases other than to say they seemed "strange."

Sendic, who is also a senator and president of congress, tweeted Saturday that he had presented his "indeclinable resignation of the vice presidency" and had communicated the decision to President Tabare Vazquez. He did not address the allegations, which are also being studied by a public anti-graft entity.

It is the first time a vice president has stepped down in the South American nation. Constitutional scholar Martin Risso told the newspaper El Pais that Sendic must present his resignation to congress, which will vote on whether to accept it.

Sendic, 54, has been at the center of several different controversies, making him a frequent target of criticism from the opposition, the media and even his own political allies.

During his time leading ANCAP, the company racked up a huge deficit and required an $872 million bailout to avoid bankruptcy. That provoked a scandal including within his party, with Economy Minister Danilo Astori blaming Sendic and then-President Jose Mujica.

Sendic argued that the deficit resulted from expensive but necessary investments, but opposition politicians filed a complaint citing possible acts of corruption. Among other irregularities, the company allegedly made advertising payments to a nonexistent radio station.

ANCAP also launched a million-dollar TV publicity blitz with a slogan that Sendic later used for his own electoral campaign.

And in 2016, the vice president acknowledged that he did not have a university degree in human genetics after claiming for years that he did.

In early July, President Tabare Vazquez said Sendic had been subjected to "the most incredible bullying I have seen in my life, and I find the cruelty astonishing."

But as more sectors of the ruling Broad Front coalition joined in the criticism, Vazquez changed his position and said he would accept Sendic's resignation if he presented it.

According to the constitution, Sendic should be replaced by the senator who received the most votes in the last elections. That person is Mujica, but the former president could be ineligible due to a prohibition on presidential re-election: He would be unable to take over for Vazquez if necessary.

The senator next in line is Lucia Topolansky, Mujica's wife.

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