Peru detains ex-President Humala over Odebrecht scandal

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Peru's former President Ollanta Humala became the country's second former leader to be detained on corruption charges, while a third has an international arrest order, underscoring a region-wide clampdown on money laundering following the Odebrecht scandal.

A judge ordered Humala (2011-2016) and his wife Nadine Heredia to be detained during an 18 month investigation, the public prosecutor's office said via Twitter. The couple was charged with allegedly receiving illegal campaign contributions from Odebrecht, according to state news agency Andina, The Humalas will be able to appeal the ruling, the head of Peru's Judiciary Duberlí Rodríguez said.

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Humalas' lawyer, Wilfredo Pedraza, said the detention is unjustified because the Humalas have attended all legal depositions over the past year and won't flee the country. Humala has denied any wrongdoing and accuses President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's government of political persecution.

"The detention was due to media pressure for political reasons," Pedraza told reporters in Lima. "There is also a sector of politicians who have been constantly demanding the Judiciary take more radical measures."

President Kuczynski denied persecution and said the crackdown on corruption would improve Peru's international image.

"It's very sad, what's happening. I hope the process is fast and transparent because detention is controversial," Kuczynski told reporters in Lima. "But we have to clean up the country. This kind of thing should not be happening."

Odebrecht, which in December admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to secure contracts across Latin America, has been involved in Peru's largest infrastructure projects including the Inter-Oceanic highway (IIRSA), power plants, the Chavimochic and Olmos irrigation ventures and the US$7bn southern Peruvian natural gas pipeline.

The company's former CEO Marcelo Odebrecht, who has been sentenced to a 19 year prison sentence, testified earlier this year that his company paid US$3mn in contributions to Humala's presidential campaign in 2011, a charge Humala denies.

Humala's detention appears to be part of a regional trend. Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, with whom the Humalas enjoyed a close relationship, was sentenced to a nine year prison sentence earlier this week on charges of bribe-taking, while Panama arrested former President Ricardo Martinelli last month.

Humala won't be alone in prison, his brother Antauro was sentenced to a 25 year jail term for an attempted uprising in 2005, while former President Alberto Fujimori also received a 25 year sentence in 2007 on charges of corruption and human rights abuses. It is also the second time Humala has been detained during his checkered career; the Humala brothers, both army officers at the time, were imprisoned in 2000 for leading an uprising against Fujimori.

Peru, which awarded Odebrecht US$16.9bn in 23 contracts from 1988-2015, earlier this year issued an arrest order for former President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) on charges of bribe-taking and money laundering. Toledo, a professor at Stanford University, has refused to return to Peru and denies he took bribes.

In March, Kuczynski set a six month timeline for Odebrecht to pull out of Peru. In January, the government ruled out further contracts with Odebrecht after the company said it paid at least US$29mn in bribes in Peru from 2005-2014. Kuczynski, former President Alan García (2006-2011) and the mayor of Lima have all testified in the ongoing investigation.

Odebrecht's projects in Peru remain halted, leaving thousands of ex-employees and contractors unpaid, according to the finance ministry.