Something rotten in the state of Peru?
16 DECEMBER 2013
The parliamentary commission that is looking into abuses of power under the government of Alan García is on the point of delivering its verdict. Two issues, in particular, have preoccupied the ‘mega-commission’: the involvement of government officials in the so-called Business Track scandal and its role in approving pardons for people convicted of drug trafficking offences.
Pre-empting official publication of the report, the commission’s chairman, Sergio Tejada, said on December 11, referring to the second of these cases, that it “was clear enough” that there had been “legal modifications and irregularities”.
The report has major political implications for García who has made no secret of his intention to be a presidential candidate in the 2016 elections. If re-elected, it would be García’s third term. He was president between 1985 and 1990, and again between 2006 and 2011. Few thought that he would ever return to power in 2011 following the chaos he left in his wake in 1990 and the allegations of corruption that surrounded his first administration.
During the deliberations of the ‘mega-commission’, García has consistently questioned its role and purpose, arguing that it is a thinly-designed witch hunt that the Humala administration is pursuing to sink his chances of re-election. He thus claims that the charges against him are trumped up and politically motivated. Tejada is a congressman for the ruling Gana Perú party.
The Business Track scandal refers to an illegal phone tapping operation in 2008 and 2009 surrounding the awarding of lucrative oil and gas drilling contracts to a Norwegian firm. The case, which reputedly involved top figures in the García government, revealed the involvement of former security officials in private-sector security firms and the close nexus between these and prominent members of the armed forces. Many of these officials maintained links to the intelligence apparatus established by Fujimori’s security factotum, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is serving a lengthy jail sentence for corruption and other crimes.
The presidential pardons affair, known as ‘narco-indultos’, relates to the ways in which a significant number of those in prison on drug trafficking charges were released following the issue of pardons signed personally by García. Under Peruvian law, it is a presidential prerogative to issue pardons to those convicted in cases where a recommendation has been made by a special commission appointed to that end. The implication of Tejada’s remarks is that there was a serious bending of the rules on the issue of pardons granted during García’s second presidency.
The cases under investigation by the mega-commission and its apparent conclusions further add to the already pervasive murk that is developing around a number of possible candidacies for the 2016 elections. Alejandro Toledo, another former president (2001-06) is himself under investigation for irregularities surrounding the purchase of a prime bit of real estate in Lima for his mother-in-law. Furthermore, a number of congressmen elected in 2011 on the Keiko Fujimori ticket, are widely suspected of being involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activities. Under Peruvian law, members of Congress enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution. Keiko is the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, himself jailed on corruption and human rights crimes in 2009.
Whether the mega-commission’s finding will lead to criminal charges being levelled against García remains to be seen. In the past, García has proved a skilful operator in averting such an outcome. After he left the presidency in 1990, a congressional commission appointed to look into corruption at the time, conspicuously failed to nail the former president. Fujimori’s 1992 ‘self-coup’ (autogolpe) led to the case being abandoned as García was forced into exile.
The Peruvian judiciary has an unhealthy reputation for succumbing to corrupt influences itself, and it has managed to avoid the root-and-branch reforms that have been widely suggested as crucial if it is to recover its authority. Opinion polls point clearly to the poor reputation enjoyed by the courts in standing up to the power of money. The conviction of Alberto Fujimori stood out at the time as a beacon of propriety and jurisprudence, internationally applauded. If García eventually finds himself confronting the judges, it will be interesting to see if such high standards are maintained.