Why is the president of Peru being investigated?

One year after assuming power, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo has accumulated six preliminary investigations by the prosecution, an unprecedented case in the country’s history. Although he usually faces criticism in silence, the president has abandoned his usual silence in recent weeks and has confronted the Public Ministry, Congress and the media, whom he accuses of wanting to remove him from the government.

Castillo is the first president of peasant origin in 200 years of an independent Republic and came to power with the promise of ending corruption, a crime for which almost all the presidents of the last two decades are being investigated.

Parallel to the investigations against him for allegedly leading a criminal organization to obtain personal benefits, the Prosecutor’s Office has also sought to hit the president’s inner circle: the authorities point to the first lady and her sister as being part of the group he would lead Castle. Authorities unexpectedly entered the presidential palace two weeks ago to arrest President Yenifer Paredes’s sister-in-law. They even searched under the president’s bed and in the closets of the presidential bedroom, according to a search report to which The Associated Press had access, although the young woman turned herself in a day later. The Prosecutor’s Office also asked this week to prohibit the departure of the president’s wife from the country.

CAN AN ACTUAL PRESIDENT BE INVESTIGATED AND DETAINED IN PERU?

The Peruvian constitution does not specifically indicate whether an acting president can be preliminarily investigated and until this government, no investigation had been initiated against the current president.

Article 117 of the Constitution mentions that a president “can only be accused” before a judge of treason against the country, closing parliament or preventing elections. The law does allow a president to dissolve congress if parliament denies confidence to two cabinets.

In the last two decades, various attorneys general—citing article 117—filed five complaints to preliminarily investigate three acting presidents. Everything changed in October 2020 when an attorney general opened an investigation against then-president Martín Vizcarra, but immediately froze it until he finished his presidential term. Vizcarra was impeached by Congress a month later. After leaving power, he began the investigation.

With President Castillo it was different. The new attorney general, Patricia Benavides, said in early July that she would go “after the investigation of any criminal act, whether by the most powerful or by any ordinary citizen” and that justice must be applied “no matter who falls.” The prosecutor added that the investigations were going to be carried out “respecting due process.”

WHAT IS PRESIDENT PEDRO CASTILLO BEING INVESTIGATED FOR?

The Prosecutor’s Office maintains that Castillo is the alleged leader of a criminal organization that committed various crimes. Five tax investigations are linked to the alleged existence of this clan, while a sixth points to an alleged plagiarism of his master’s thesis.

The authorities had already launched investigations into Castillo officials since the end of 2021, but not directly against the president.

Here’s a look at the investigations:

—The first investigation points Castillo to influence peddling and a criminal organization. The Prosecutor’s Office considers him the leader of a group that favored businessmen at the hands of his former Minister of Transport, Juan Silva, currently a fugitive. The case focuses on a tender that was won by a consortium in 2021 to build a bridge in the Amazon. Authorities say their main piece of evidence is the testimony of an informer who claims that in late 2021 the former transportation minister told him the president was “happy” after he received a $12,900 reward for submitting the bridge tender. There has been no other element that confirms this statement.

—The second investigation maintains that Castillo would have committed the crime of influence peddling in the purchase of biodiesel for 74 million dollars. The prosecution has only pointed out that there is a suspicion that he awarded a contract irregularly because the president met in October at the Government Palace with a local businessman who four days later was favored with the direct award.

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—The third is about promotions in the military and police leadership, and they also point to the president for influence peddling. The Prosecutor’s Office considers that Castillo, together with a former Minister of Defense and his former personal secretary, would have requested the promotion of several officers to the rank of general and that they would have tried to receive money in exchange for those promotions. The evidence of the authorities are statements by the former head of the Army, José Vizcarra, who has told the prosecution that he was pressured to promote military personnel close to the government. The Pan-American television affirms that the former personal secretary would have delivered a paper to the prosecutors where Castillo asked them to name a military man in a presidential office, which has not been publicly confirmed by the Prosecutor’s Office, although the president’s defense affirms that the calligraphy needs to be analyzed of the alleged role.

—The fourth investigation points Castillo to the alleged crimes of criminal organization and cover-up, and is related to the dismissal on July 20 of the former Minister of the Interior of Castillo, Mariano González. The former official told the prosecution that his departure occurred because the president did not like that he organized a police team to look for two fugitives close to Castillo himself: one of his nephews, Fray Vásquez, and the former Minister of Transportation, Juan Silva, still escapees. Both are investigated for the alleged crime of criminal organization.

—In the fifth case, the Prosecutor’s Office considers Castillo responsible for the crime against public tranquility in its criminal organization modality, as a result of the alleged group led by the president seeking to benefit from a series of public works tenders with money from the Ministry of Housing in his native province, Chota. The Prosecutor’s Office analyzes whether a decree signed by Castillo to disburse more than eight million dollars was used by the alleged organization.

-The sixth investigation is about a case that would have occurred before the beginning of your government. The Prosecutor’s Office suspects that Castillo and the first lady plagiarized part of her master’s thesis in Education in 2012. Both are being investigated for the alleged crimes of plagiarism and generic falsehood. The investigation began after the Pan-American television indicated in May that the 121-page thesis has 54% plagiarism from other authors. The television station claimed that it used plagiarism detection software called Turnitin. The César Vallejo private university, whose owner is one of the most powerful politicians in the country and is in favor of Castillo resigning from the presidency, has indicated that the thesis is original, it is not plagiarism and “it contains a contribution of originality”.

The crimes of criminal organization and against public tranquility are punished with up to 20 years in prison, concealment with up to 15 years, influence peddling and plagiarism with up to eight years. The sentences do not accumulate and the longest is served, according to Peruvian law.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN THE PROSECUTOR FINALIZES THE INVESTIGATIONS?

Article 117 of the Peruvian constitution is clear on this point and mentions that a president “can only be accused” during his period of government before a judge for the crimes of treason against the fatherland, for closing parliament or for preventing elections.

As none of the current investigations refer to these crimes, the Prosecutor’s Office could only accuse Castillo once his term ends.

The prosecutor would have to send the accusations before a subcommittee of Parliament and if they are approved, then a judge could judge the person under investigation.

Article 99 of the constitution establishes that an official, including the president, can be charged with crimes up to five years after leaving office.

Castillo’s government is scheduled to end on July 29, 2026.

 

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