Garcia’s death highlights Peru corruption scandals

Former president was one of five accused of graft as country tries to clean up politics

Gideon Long, Andean Correspondent

Alan García is reported to have received more than $100,000 in kickbacks from Odebrecht during his second spell as president © AFP

As police converged on his home in Lima on Wednesday, former Peruvian president Alan García shot himself in the head rather than submit to arrest in a corruption case.

His death, hours later, was the latest tragic chapter of a long tale of graft scandals in the Latin American country.

The past five presidents, who together governed for 33 years, have each been investigated or jailed for corruption. Current president Martin Vizcarra took power last year on a promise to clean up politics following the gargantuan Odebrecht corruption scandal which implicated four of the former leaders.

One, Ollanta Humala, is in Lima awaiting trial. Another, 80-year-old Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, is in intensive care with high blood pressure after being arrested last week. A third, Alejandro Toledo, is on the run in the US where he spent a night in a police cell last month for being drunk in public.

Prosecutors believe the fourth, Mr García, received more than $100,000 in kickbacks from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company, during his second spell as president from 2006 to 2011. He denied the charges. “I never sold myself, and that’s been proven,” he wrote on Tuesday in his final tweet before his death.Peru, more than any country other than Brazil, has been shaken to its core by the Odebrecht revelations. The company admits it paid nearly $800m in bribes in 12 countries to win contracts for infrastructure projects, some $30m of it in Peru.

Some in Peru see the pursuit of the four former leaders as evidence that Peru is more corrupt that its neighbours. Others take the investigations as proof that authorities are doing their job — in contrast to other Latin American countries where progress in the Odebrecht probe has been slow.

“The lesson from Peru is that judges can go after graft, however deeply ingrained, and without destabilising the economy,” a senior International Monetary Fund official said. “The key variable is that the macroeconomic accounts have to be in good shape.”

While corruption scandals have dragged down the economy and hit business sentiment in Brazil, Peru’s economy seems less susceptible to the political and judicial intrigue in Lima.

Antonia Eklund, senior analyst at Control Risks, said that while corruption shaved an estimated 0.8 per cent off Peruvian gross domestic product in 2017, in Brazil the figure was 2–3 per cent.

Peru’s economy grew 4 per cent last year, compared to Brazil’s 1.1 per cent and South America’s 0.1 per cent, according to the World Bank. It predicts another 3.8 per cent of growth this year and 3.9 per cent in 2020.

Running like a Shakespearean subplot below tales of corruption in Peru is the story of the Fujimori family, a powerful and controversial political clan. Alberto Fujimori, the authoritarian ruler from 1990 to 2000, spent 12 years in jail for ordering killings and kidnappings as well as embezzlement, only to be pardoned on health grounds by Mr Kuczynski on Christmas Eve 2017.

In a memorable video, Mr Fujimori, dressed in a white hospital gown and connected to tubes, addressed the nation from his hospital bed and asked his detractors “for forgiveness with all my heart”. But the Supreme Court overturned the pardon and the frail 80-year-old was sent back to jail this January. “The end of my life is close,” he tweeted alongside a mournful, handwritten letter posted on his feed.

Alberto’s daughter Keiko Fujimori, leader of the opposition, is also in prison, in preventive custody, accused of accepting more than $1m in illegal funding from Odebrecht.

Adding sibling rivalry to the family saga, she has distanced herself from her brother Kenji Fujimori, a congressman who quit her party over support for Mr Kuczynski. He said his sister harboured “a criminal attitude” and her party lacked moral authority.

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