Keiko Fujimori, Peru’s former first lady, sent back to jail ahead of corruption trial
- Daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori denies accepting US$1.2 million from construction firm Odebrecht
- Peru’s constitution allows for suspects to be held without trial for up to 36 months in complex case
A judge in Peru has sent the country’s divisive opposition leader Keiko Fujimori back to jail, ordering she should serve three years as a preventive measure while prosecutors investigate claims she ran a “de facto criminal organisation” within her political party to launder campaign donations.
Judge Richard Concepcion Carhuancho ruled Fujimori, 43, who was put in police custody for a week this month, should return to jail to keep her from fleeing before a trial for allegedly running a money laundering racket within her party, Fuerza Popular.
Fujimori, the daughter of the former president Alberto Fujimori and a two-time loser in the last presidential elections, has denied taking US$1.2 million from Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction firm at the centre of Latin America’s biggest corruption scandal, during her 2011 election campaign.
Her lawyers say she is a victim of “political persecution” and have vowed to appeal.
Dressed in black with her hair in a ponytail, Fujimori hugged and kissed her husband while appearing to hold back tears.
It is a dramatic reversal of fortunes for Fujimori, who a few months ago was Peru’s most powerful politician with a congressional majority and an appetite to avenge her razor-thin 2016 electoral defeat to Pedro Pablo Kuczynski who resigned in March amid corruption allegations.
But a series of leaks and journalistic investigations have chipped away at her credibility, revealing links with the Cuellos Blancos, a group of corrupt judges and prosecutors led by supreme court judge Cesar Hinostroza, who fled to Spain last month.
The latest leak revealed an online chat between the party’s inner circle and lawmakers. Exchanges included insults directed at the president, Martin Vizcarra, and plots to intimidate Jose Domingo Perez, the prosecutor investigating Fujimori.
Domingo Perez used the conversations in the chat – known as La Botica, a kind of local chemist – as evidence that Fujimori’s party was shielding the corruption-tainted attorney general, Pedro Chavarry, who was at the centre of corruption scandal in Peru’s judiciary.
In a ruling lasting more than eight hours, Judge Concepcion said: “We want to make clear that [this office] has noticed the attempts to destroy the investigating prosecutor and the shielding of the attorney general Pedro Chavarry.
“We see a suspected criminal organisation which began to interfere with the justice system.”
Beyond the criminal implications that placed Fujimori at the focus of public demonstrations about corruption, the chat also invited widespread ridicule for her domineering style, such as ordering the party’s lawmakers to give only “protocolary applause” to Vizcarra’s national day speech.
Many Peruvians are surprised by the latest twist in a political career that began when Fujimori was 18 and became her father’s first lady.
Peruvian political life has been held captive by the Fujimori dynasty for decades. In October, Peru’s supreme court revoked a medical pardon granted to Fujimori’s 80-year-old father by Vizcarra’s predecessor.
But four former presidents have been either charged or put under investigation for corruption, mostly linked to Odebrecht, and Vizcarra has promised to transform anti-corruption pledges from “theory into practice”.
A referendum on strengthening anti-corruption laws in expected to be held next month.