Politics

Peru, the country of presidents brought to justice, goes to the polls

By Fernando Gimeno

Lima, May 31 (EFE).- Peru, the country holding the world record for presidents subjected to court proceedings for alleged crimes, this week will select a new leader, an arduous decision between two extremes: leftist Pedro Castillo and rightist Keiko Fujimori, the latter of whom is already facing prosecution that could land her in prison for more than 30 years.

The winner will be the country’s next president, with all those who have occupied the post since 1985 having been investigated, arrested or imprisoned except for interim Presidents Valentin Paniagua (2000-2001) and Francisco Sagasti (2020-2021).

Among the presidents who have been put on trial, the outstanding figure is Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), who is serving a 25-year prison term for crimes against humanity and for sitting at the center of a gigantic corruption network that he and his super-advisor, Vladimiro Montesinos, wove into the government infrastructure.

With assorted guilty verdicts already handed down against him, and several still-active court proceedings, the father of presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori was convicted of having brought about the murders of 25 people, including a 10-year-old boy, at the hands of the undercover Colina military group in Barrios Altos (1991) and La Cantuta (1992).

The other presidents who followed Fujimori have been prosecuted since 2016 for the Odebrecht scandal involving the huge Brazilian construction firm that bribed high officials in a dozen Latin American countries to win huge bids for public works projects.

Only in Peru have the investigations reached into the highest echelons of power.

As if it were a virus, the influence of Odebrecht infected ex-Presidents Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), the late Alan Garcia (1985-1990 and 2006-2011), Ollanta Humana (2011-2016) and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (2016-2018).

Toledo was charged with having taken some $34 million in bribes from Odebrecht through a network of corporations in tax havens, via which he acquired real estate worth millions of dollars in Peru.

At present, Toledo is free in California waiting for the US court system to evaluate whether to honor an extradition request from Peru, where he is expected to be held in prison for 18 months as his trial unfolds.

Garcia committed suicide in 2019 just as he was about to be arrested by the police after his alleged front men began to confess to receiving Odebrecht payments in accounts they maintained in the Banca Privada de Andorra.

“I leave my body as a sign of contempt for my adversaries,” read the suicide note written by Garcia, who always maintained that any legal investigations and/or court proceedings against him were mere political persecution.

Humala and his wife Nadine Heredia spent almost 10 months in custody charged with money laundering during their election campaigns and allegedly having received $3 million from Odebrecht.

At age 82, Kuczynski has been under house arrest for the past two years while he is investigated for allegedly taking bribes from Odebrecht when he was a minister in Toledo’s cabinet.

PPK, as he is known for his initials, resigned in 2018 to avoid being removed from office by Peru’s Congress when it was discovered that he allegedly hid those illicit payments via fictitious consulting firms.

Kuczynski was replaced by his vice president, Martin Vizcarra (2018-2020), who swore to root out all corruption until it was discovered that he had taken a series of alleged bribes when he was governor of the southern region of Moquegua from 2011-2014.

That was the excuse that Congress, dominated by the opposition, used to oust Vizcarra for “permanent moral incapacity,” replacing him with the ephemeral figure of Manuel Merino, who is also under investigation despite having served only five days in the presidency.

Merino is charged with murder and causing serious bodily injury in the deaths of Into Sotelo and Bryan Pintado, the two young demonstrators shot to death by police during the suppression of the huge Nov. 14, 2020, demonstration that forced the resignation of the interim president.

Sagasti then took the reins of power and will be the one to turn over the presidency to either Castillo or Fujimori, the latter of whom has already promised to pardon her father despite the fact that almost half his sentence remains to be served.

If she wins, Fujimori during her time in office would elude – temporarily, at least – a potential trial for allegedly laundering money in the financing of her prior election campaigns.

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