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Former Peruvian strongman released from clinic after pardon

January 05, 2018

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori left the clinic Thursday where he has been receiving treatment since his controversial pardon from a 25-year jail sentence. The 79-year-old former strongman departed in a wheelchair alongside his youngest son less than two weeks after President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced his release.

Dressed in jeans and a blue polo shirt, Fujimori waved to a crowd of supporters gathered outside the clinic before entering a black SUV. “We are very happy to welcome our father in this new chapter of life!” daughter Keiko Fujimori posted on Twitter along with a photo featuring the family.

The pardon sent thousands of Peruvians into the streets in protest and drew international condemnation. United Nations human rights experts called Fujimori’s pardon an appalling “slap in the face” to the victims of human rights abuses that undermined the work of Peru’s judiciary.

The pardon came three days after Kuczynski narrowly escaped impeachment following a vote in which 10 members of Fujimori’s party unexpectedly abstained. Polls show a majority of Peruvians believe a behind-the-scene deal was struck between Kuczynski and Fujimori’s lawmaker son.

Kuczynski’s allies have denied any such quid pro quo took place. Fujimori was convicted in 2009 for his role in the killings of 25 people, including an 8-year-old boy, during his decade-long rule. He was also later found guilty of having had knowledge of the existence of death squads financed with public money that killed civilians accused of being Shining Path members.

Some Peruvians credit him with stabilizing the economy and defeating the country’s Maoist guerrillas while others condemn him for permitting widespread human rights violations. Fujimori apologized to Peruvians from his hospital bed following his release.

“I have disappointed some compatriots,” he said. “I ask them for forgiveness with all my heart.” Fujimori’s pardon and Kuczynski’s near impeachment have thrown the nation with one of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies into a new period of uncertainty. Kuczynski was already deeply unpopular before an opposition-led investigation revealed his private consulting firm had accepted $782,000 in payments from the Brazilian construction company at the center of the region’s largest corruption scandal. The payments were made when Kuczynski was a high-ranking minister over a decade ago.

The former Wall Street banker repeatedly denied having had any knowledge of the transactions. Several key members of Kuczynski’s government have resigned since the vote. Fujimori had requested a pardon since 2013, but authorities said he did not suffer from any grave, incurable illness. That changed on Christmas Eve when Kuczynski announced he was freeing Fujimori for “humanitarian reasons” after doctors determined he suffered from incurable and degenerative problems. Not details have been provided on exactly what condition Fujimori is facing.

Peruvian law says that no person convicted of murder or kidnapping can receive a presidential pardon except in the case of a terminal illness.


2 top officials quit Peru government amid political crisis

December 28, 2017

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Two senior officials resigned Wednesday from Peru’s government, the latest in a wave of defections amid a political crisis in the South American country. Minister of Culture Salvador del Solar announced his resignation on Twitter without giving a reason for his decision, while presidential adviser Máximo San Roman said in a letter to embattled President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski that his recommendations were not being taken into consideration.

Their departures come days after the resignations of three members of parliament from the president’s party and his minister of interior. Kuczynski only barely survived an impeachment vote by congress last week for alleged corruption, and he set off protests at home and abroad with a Christmas Eve pardon of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori in what many Peruvians viewed as a political payback.

Kuczynski said he granted a medical pardon to the ailing 79-year-old former president on humanitarian grounds. The action allows Fujimori to leave prison after serving less than half a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses, including killings of 25 people by the military, that took place during his administration in the 1990s.

Relatives and a lawyer for some of the victims called Wednesday for judicial authorities or the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to reverse the pardon for Fujimori, who issued an apology from his hospital bed for people “wronged” by his government.

“Fujimori killed my son, and now Kuczynski in a cowardly and cruel manner ends up killing the rest of the family,” one of the relatives, Javier Roca, told reporters. Abstentions by lawmakers from a party led by a Fujimori son allowed Kuczynski to narrowly avoid being impeached late Thursday over a payment that his consulting firm received a decade ago from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which has admitted bribing public officials throughout Latin America to win public works contracts.

Former Peruvian president apologizes following pardon

December 27, 2017

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Former President Alberto Fujimori apologized to Peruvians on Tuesday for the wrongs committed under his government in the 1990s, issuing a vaguely worded statement two days after he received a presidential medical pardon that freed him from prison.

The 79-year-old Fujimori spoke in a videotaped message from a hospital in the capital. He received the pardon after serving less than half of a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses. “I am aware that the results during my government were well received on one side, but I recognize that I have let down other compatriots,” he said. “To them, I ask for forgiveness with all my heart.”

Fujimori had not previously apologized, asserting even during his sentencing hearing that he was innocent. He led the country in 1990-2000 and was found guilty for the killings of 25 people in a campaign against the leftist Shining Path terrorist group.

“He has to ask forgiveness from his victims, from the families of those who were lost, who can’t spend Christmas with their families,” Marisa Glave, a member of parliament, said on local television network America.

Fujimori, who has been diagnosed with arrhythmia and tongue cancer, also thanked President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski for pardoning him and sparing him from serving another 14 years in prison. The decision, which was announced on Christmas Eve, sparked large protests across the country on Christmas Day.

The president said Fujimori was being let go for humanitarian reasons, but many believe it was part of a backroom deal struck to protect Kuczynski from impeachment on corruption charges. Human Rights Watch declared it a “vulgar political negotiation.”

Abstentions by lawmakers from a party led by Fujimori’s son allowed Kuczynski to narrowly avoid being impeached late Thursday over a payment that his consulting firm received from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which has been accused of bribing public officials throughout Latin America.

A U.N. official said Tuesday that Peru’s president should not have acted alone in granting the pardon. Amerigo Incalcaterra, the South America representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted in a statement that the U.N. told Kuczynski’s government in October that the seriousness of Fujimori’s crimes warranted involvement of the international community in deciding on any pardon.

Such a pardon “requires a rigorous analysis in each case, considering the gravity of the facts in the framework of a transparent and inclusive process, in the light of international human rights standards,” Incalcaterra wrote.

Peru prosecutors seek jail for president in corruption case

July 11, 2017

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Prosecutors in Peru are seeking the arrest of former President Ollanta Humala and his wife on money laundering and conspiracy charges tied to a corruption scandal involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Prosecutor German Juarez tells The Associated Press that he has asked a judge to jail Humala and former first lady Nadine Heredia for 18 months. He says Tuesday’s request is based on testimony provided in Brazil by the former head of Odebrecht, who said he illegally contributed $3 million to Humala’s 2011 presidential campaign.

The judge in the case has already ordered the arrest of another former president, Alejandro Toledo, for related charges in the scandal. Humala governed Peru between 2011 and 2016.

Peru organizes 2019 Pan Am Games in wake of deadly flooding

May 21, 2017

Construction for the 2019 Pan American Games is way behind schedule. But that’s a secondary problem. The quadrennial event in Lima, Peru, has no sponsors, no marketing and is relying on a $1.2 billion budget financed by the national government.

“This is the biggest challenge I have today — the sponsors,” Neven Ilic, the president of the Pan American Sports Organization, told The Associated Press. “Now we have to go to the market to find sponsors.”

Peru is organizing the largest sports event in its history — in the wake of the worst flooding in recent memory. Flooding earlier this year in the north of the country, and in Lima, killed more than 100 and displaced thousands. President Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki has put reconstruction costs at up to $9 billion, raising questions about the propriety of big spending on a two-week sports event.

Supporters like Kuczysnki say the country can afford both, while critics point out that last year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro generated as much bad news as good. Nine months after the games ended, Rio organizers still owe creditors about $30 million. Many venues are abandoned, searching for events and money for maintenance.

“Peru has accepted being the host of the Pan American Games,” Kuczysnki told reporters. “It would be a real tragedy not to keep our pledge and dedicate all the needed resources to the reconstruction, and to the Pan American Games.”

Elected last month as president of the regional sports body PASO, Ilic has been lobbying in Lima for several weeks to get everyone behind the project. Lima Mayor Luis Castaneda said the games should be cancelled when the floods hit in March. Since then, he’s said they should go ahead.

“We know everything about all the problems they have, but today I think they are ready,” said Ilic, a Chilean and grandson of Croatian immigrants. He termed the construction schedule “tight, very short” and said all venue and related construction needed to start in September.

The biggest project is an athletes’ village composed of seven 20-story towers. A metro line is also just 15 percent completed. The country’s comptroller said last month that 40 percent should be done at this stage.

Ilic said he’ll look to some of the IOC’s big sponsors like Coca-Cola as potential clients. “First, we have to have a good proposal to present,” he said. Seeking expertise, the Peruvian government signed an agreement with Britain to line up British companies to help deliver security, construction, and event management.

Ilic has promised “no white elephants.” “We have asked them to please build (venues) in accordance with your reality, your culture,” Ilic said. “They don’t have big stadiums, big construction.” The continental championships open July 26, 2019, and will attract 7,000 athletes from Alaska to Argentina. For many it’s a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The last two Pan Am Games were in Toronto in 2015, and Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2011. Rio hosted the 2007 edition, which it used to lobby for the Olympics. Rolando Arellano, the president of Lima-based Arellano Marketing, said most Peruvians were unaware the games were coming, and few “know what that means.”

He said the commitment to the Pan Am Games has put the government in a bind. “If the government spends on this, they can be seen as insensitive to other problems,” Arellano told AP. “But if they don’t, they will lose their image. Either way, they are not in a very comfortable position.”

The Peruvian capital is also host in September to the International Olympic Committee, which will meet to pick either Paris or Los Angeles as the venue for the 2024 Olympics. There was also pressure to cancel that event.

These meetings take place with scandal hovering over Peru’s national Olympic committee. Jose Quinones was disqualified last year by a Peruvian government body as president of the local Olympic committee with reports suggesting he misappropriated $3.3 million. Peru is to elect a new president in June.

Fransicso Boza, the secretary general of the Peruvian Olympic Committee, is also being investigated by a prosecutor on corruption charges. He was Peru’s flagbearer in the Rio Olympics and an Olympic silver medalist in shooting in the 1984 Olympics.

“Peru has seen a lot of progress in the last 15 years, so we must show off our development,” Arellano said. “This puts Lima and Peru in the international news. That could be a big win. Of course, you are not sure you are going to gain only goodwill.”

Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno in Lima contributed to this report.

Peru’s president asks Trump to deport fugitive ex-leader

February 13, 2017

LIMA, Peru (AP) — The leader of Peru asked U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday to deport a former Peruvian president sought in the South American nation on suspicion of taking bribes as part of a regional corruption scandal.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s office said the request was made to Trump during a phone conversation between the two men. The White House confirmed the talk, but did not mention Peru’s deportation request. It said they discussed the need for strong economic group as well as the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Venezuela.

Last week, a Peruvian court ordered the arrest and detention of ex-President Alejandro Toledo as prosecutors investigate whether he took $20 million in payments from the giant Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

Peruvian officials have said they believe Toledo is in San Francisco, where he has been researching a book as a visiting scholar at nearby Stanford University. Local media reported he had intended to fly over the weekend to Israel, where his wife has citizenship, until Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said he would be denied entry. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Toledo was not on a flight from San Francisco that landed Sunday night.

In a posting on his Twitter account late Sunday, Toledo denied that he is a fugitive, saying that “I have never run away.” But he did not say where he was and did not say if he would return to Peru. Authorities across Latin America have been moving fast to charge officials accused of taking some $800 million in bribes from Odebrecht. The company acknowledged the bribes when it signed a plea agreement in December with the U.S. Justice Department.

Used to win business in 12 countries, the bribes include some $29 million paid in Peru for projects built during the administrations of Toledo (2001-2006) and two of his successors. So far, three officials have been arrested.

Toledo, a former pro-democracy activist who led street protests that brought down former strongman Alberto Fujimori in 2000, is accused of receiving some $20 million in bribes from Odebrecht in exchange for favoring the company in a contract to build a major highway from Brazil to Peru’s Pacific coast.

In a nationally televised address Sunday night, Kuczysnki called on Toledo to return immediately to Peru to clarify his legal situation. Earlier, Kuczynski thanked Israel’s government for its support in a letter to Netanyahu.

The White House said Trump expressed concerns about developments in Venezuela. Kuczysnki, a 78-year-old former Wall Street banker, has spearheaded calls among Latin American leaders to punish Venezuela’s socialist government for allegedly breaking with the nation’s democratic order.

Kuczynski, a 78-year-old former Wall Street banker has seen his approval ratings fall as a result of a number of ethical slips by members of his Cabinet, though none of those cases are tied to Odebrecht.

In his address, he announced executive measures meant to strengthen Peru’s fight against corruption. They include a bigger budget for prosecutors as well as rewards and protections for whistleblowers and a ban for life on contracting with the state for companies that engage in graft.

“We have to act relentlessly and immediately to stop the rot of corruption in Peru,” the president said. Kuczynski’s calls for zero tolerance for corruption comes as prosecutors in the Odebrecht case want to speak with the president himself.

As Toledo’s prime minister in 2006, Kuczynski signed a law passed by congress allowing Odebrecht to participate in an auction to build two highways despite a ban on it bidding for government contracts at the time because it was facing legal action for irregularities in another project. Odebrecht eventually was awarded the roads contract.

Kuczynski has denied any wrongdoing.

Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

Israel says it will bar entry to fugitive Peruvian president

February 12, 2017

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel said Sunday it would not permit Peru’s fugitive former president to enter the country after reports he had boarded a flight from the United States. The Foreign Ministry said Alejandro Toledo, who governed Peru from 2001 to 2006, would only be allowed into Israel “once his affairs in Peru are settled.”

Toledo, whose wife has dual Belgian-Israeli citizenship, may seek refuge in Israel, which does not have an extradition treaty with the South American nation. He was believed to be in San Francisco over the weekend and possibly on a flight set to land in Israel later Sunday. Israeli officials said they did not know whether he was on the plane

An international manhunt is underway after a judge issued an arrest order for Toledo, finding that there was a high probability he had received bribes from a Brazilian construction firm that has admitted to paying off officials throughout Latin America.

Toledo is accused of accepting some $20 million in bribes from Odebrecht to help the company win a contract to build a highway from Brazil to Peru’s Pacific Coastline. Odebrecht last year admitted in a plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to paying some $800 million in bribes to politicians throughout Latin America, including $29 million during the 2001-2006 governments of Toledo and his two successors.

Toledo, who was last believed to be in Paris a week ago, has denied any wrongdoing.

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