Peruvian opposition leader Keiko Fujimori was arrested Oct. 10 and detained for a week before being released in connection with an investigation into illicit campaign financing. Nineteen others were detained along with Fujimori, and days later, two of her top advisors were also arrested. Fujimori, the leader of the Popular Force party, has previously denied wrongdoing and has said the allegations against her are politically motivated. Fujimori’s arrest came just a week after Peru’s Supreme Court overturned the pardon granted last December to Fujimori’s father, former President Alberto Fujimori. Are the arrests politically motivated, or do the cases have merit? How will Keiko Fujimori’s detention affect Peru’s opposition? How well is Peru’s government fighting corruption in general?
Katya Salazar, executive director of the Due Process of Law Foundation:“The criminal investigation against Keiko Fujimori for alleged illegal financing of her political party, Fuerza Popular, is part of a broader investigation into money laundering related to the activities of Odebrecht in Peru and the Lava Jato case in Brazil. Fujimori’s preliminary detention was aimed at protecting the investigation from external interference and preventing her from fleeing the country. It was not on the merits of the case. However, according to an appeals court, the evidence submitted was not sufficient and thus Keiko was released. Will there be enough evidence to warrant a conviction against her for money laundering at the end of this process? It’s difficult to say, but at this point it is clear that Fuerza Popular developed a structure to raise and file funds in violation of the law. Whether this was just a small-scale scheme of illegal financing or a component of a highly sophisticated mechanism of money laundering, only the investigation of brave prosecutor José Domingo Perez can say. The arrest of Fujimori—now released but with a new request for preventive detention to be evaluated in the coming days–has demonstrated the internal tensions between members of Fuerza Popular but also the level of corruption of the Peruvian judiciary. A Supreme Court justice allegedly involved in a larger network to sell and exchange judicial decisions and support Keiko has fled and requested asylum in Spain. Politics in Peru currently looks more like a crime series. But it also shows that in spite of the daily surreal events, Peruvian institutions have the strength to overcome them and move forward. President Vizcarra is making the right decisions, several judges have been detained or removed from their positions and the new head of the judiciary is an honest judge and academic. It’s our responsibility to keep monitoring the situation and not dismay.”
Francisco Durand, professor of political science at the Catholic University of Peru:“Peru is going through a period of presidential banditrywhere all elected presidents (Fujimori, Toledo, García, Humala, Kuczynski) are being accused or investigated for alleged bribery, money laundering or conflicts of interest. Keiko Fujimori, the 2011 and 2016 presidential candidate, joins the infamous list and runs the risk of being jailed again together with her inner circle. All these politicians, invariably, claim to be ‘persecuted’ but the cases are not baseless. The corruption scandals fueled by Lava Jato revelations and audio recordings that detected a corruption ring inside the judicial system protected by politicians divides the political class. President Vizcarra and the executive branch, the corporate media, even the left, and the ‘moral reserve’ of the nation are leading the struggle to clean up the judicial system and proceed with the investigations. Keiko Fujimori and APRA, who control Congress, claim political motivations and try to block the investigations. Keiko is alleged to have received $1.2 million under the table from Odebrecht and is accused of laundering the money using party militants to make false donations. The case is strong, but the question is whether it can be legally considered money laundering by a criminal organization led by Keiko. The fight has now moved to the chief prosecutor’s office, led by Pedro Chávarry, who enjoys Keiko’s support and remains in office despite Vizcarra’s attempt to force his resignation. Chávarry is openly sabotaging ongoing investigations, the Keiko case in particular. In the meantime, the public, sick of revelations of judicial corruption, supports Vizcarra. The president enjoys strong approval ratings, while Keiko’s are rapidly declining. So far, the power struggle has no clear results, but thanks to public opinion trends and media coverage on scandals, the correlation is moving in Vizcarra’s favor. César Hinostroza, the alleged leader of the corruption ring, who was protected by the congressional majority, escaped to Spain and, once more, Keiko (and APRA) are blamed.”
Julio Carrión, associate chair of the political science and international department at the University of Delaware:“Peru’s politics are at a crossroads. A criminal investigation fortuitously uncovered a vast network of corruption inside the higher echelons of the judiciary, implicating not only members of the Supreme Court but also the body in charge of appointing judges. The media report that the current attorney general, Pedro Chávarry, was the preferred candidate of this network, which wanted someone who would not meddle in their affairs. Many, including President Vizcarra, are demanding his resignation, but he has refused. The criminal investigation also revealed close ties among corrupt judges and some prominent members of the fujimorista and aprista parties. On the plus side, it is clear that some members of the judiciary and the office of the attorney general are determined to clean house. Keiko’s arrest, while surprising, was not politically motivated. It was consistent with the procedure that led to the provisional detention of former President Ollanta Humala and his wife, who spent nine months in prison. The same judge who ordered their detention also ordered Keiko’s arrest. When Humala was detained, Keiko tweeted that the action demonstrated the independence of the judiciary. President Vizcarra has found that leading the fight against corruption is politically advantageous to him (his popularity shot up 16 points in the last month). The forces that are fighting to end corruption in the judiciary and the nefarious practice of using undeclared funds in electoral campaigns have found a powerful ally. Nevertheless, it is early to tell whether this anti-corruption campaign will have enduring consequences. The fujimoristas continue to have the largest bloc in Congress, and they still have the capability of blocking legislation. But they are weakened. Keiko’s popularity has fallen precipitously in the last year, from the low 40s to the low teens, and her congressional representation is in disarray and smaller, as resignations are mounting.”
Augusto Álvarez-Rodrich, daily columnist on political affairs at La República:“The judicial process involving Keiko Fujimori has no political motivation, if by this means an organized persecution for political purposes by a political group. It would be difficult to organize a political persecution of a party like Fuerza Popular, which has about half of the votes in Congress and, thanks to covert agreements with some parliamentarians, has more than a majority. Keiko Fujimori is under investigation because there are very strong indications that she received illegal financing from Odebrecht for her 2011 presidential campaign. Others were also imprisoned, including former President Ollanta Humala, who along with his wife, were in jail for almost a year for the same reason. In addition, Fujimori’s problem is the disclosure, some months ago, of a set of audio recordings made by court order, that revealed deep corruption in the judicial system that has been linked to politicians of two parties: Fujimori’s Popular Force and former President Alan García’s APRA. The new president, Martín Vizcarra, made corruption the central theme of his political agenda. He has launched some important but insufficient efforts to fight corruption, including a referendum for a constitutional reform in political and judicial matters. What is evident is that while Vizcarra is trying to promote an incipient fight against corruption, the Popular Force and Apra parties, which dominate Congress, are opposed to it. As a result, President Vizcarra’s approval rating is now over 60 percent, while Fujimori’s does not exceed 10 percent.”
The Latin America Advisor features Q&A with leaders in politics, economics, and finance every business day. The publication is available to members of the Dialogue’s Corporate Program and others by subscription.