June 15, 2017 / 10:13 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 2-Peru finance minister says will appear in Congress to address accusations

(Adds planned meeting in Congress on Friday)

LIMA, June 15 (Reuters) - Peru’s Finance Minister Alfredo Thorne said he would appear before the opposition-controlled Congress on Friday to address accusations he improperly tried to influence an airport contract.

Lawmakers had demanded he attend an inspection committee on Thursday, but he said he was too busy with work to comply.

Earlier this month local television station Panamericana released a recording of Thorne appearing to ask Edgar Alarcon, head of the comptroller’s office, to greenlight the contract for an airport near Cusco. Thorne is heard asking him to approve a $520 million airport contract in exchange for a bigger budget.

“My work will not allow me to go to Congress today, but tomorrow I will appear before the inspection committee as agreed,” Thorne said in a Tweet. The committee chairman had already canceled Friday’s session, but late on Thursday Thorne Tweeted that he would accept an invitation to the plenary.

The government withdrew the 40-year-operating contract on May 22 after the comptroller released an official report pointing to irregularities in the contract.

Alarcon had publicly spoken of alleged irregularities prior to his conversation with Thorne. The controversy pressured Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s approval ratings lower this month.

Thorne has denied offering a quid pro quo and said his talk with Alarcon lasted nearly an hour and that there were gaps in the released recording.

Congress could vote to censure him, which could force a resignation. (Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Caroline Stauffer and Hugh Bronstein; Editing by David Gregorio and Andrew Hay)

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