Clandestine videos roil Peru ahead of impeachment vote
LIMA, Peru (AP) — The revelation of secretly shot videos allegedly showing attempts to buy a lawmaker’s political support has roiled Peru’s political establishment two days before a scheduled impeachment vote against President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and amid a bitter feud between two powerful children of a former leader.
The four videos presented Tuesday by the main opposition party purportedly show attempts by Kuczynski’s lawyer, a top government official and Kenji Fujimori to convince a lawmaker to back the president in exchange for a hand in state contracts in his district.
They were allegedly shot in December, after Kenji Fujimori led a group of lawmakers who defied his sister Keiko’s leadership of the Popular Force party to narrowly block Kuczynski’s removal on corruption charges.
Days later, Kuczynski pardoned the feuding siblings’ father, former President Alberto Fujimori, from a 25-year jail sentence for human rights abuses committed during his decade-long rule.
A new impeachment vote is scheduled to take place Thursday and Kuczynski is once again scrambling for allies — a task made harder by the release of the videos, which prompted the firing of one government official in the video as well as calls from even some of Kuczynski’s former allies for the president to immediately resign.
Keiko Fujimori, who has publicly taken distance from her father, accused Kuczynski of orchestrating the alleged vote-buying scheme. She said on Twitter that she regretted her younger brother’s “involvement in practices that have caused so much damage to Peru and our family.”
She was alluding to her father’s longtime spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who would secretly record himself paying cash bribes to media moguls, military officers and politicians in efforts to gain leverage over potential rivals and boost his almost unlimited power.
The videos released Tuesday portray the president’s allies trying to lure lawmaker Moises Mamani to their side with promises of lucrative contracts.
In on exchange, Freddy Aragon, the head of the government agency regulating firearms, tells Mamani that he stands to pocket 5 percent of future public works projects authorized by the executive branch in his district. In another, Kuczynski’s lawyer hands the waffling lawmaker the transportation minister’s cell phone.
“Those who’ve voted in favor of impeachment have all the doors closed to them,” Kenji Fujimori tells Mamani in one of the recordings.
Following the release of the videos, the government fired Aragon, dismissing his apparent misconduct as that of a freelancing, low-ranking official.
“The government doesn’t buy people in Congress. That’s impossible,” said Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz. “It’s true that everyone knocks on our door, they call and they even send us messages about their pet projects. But that’s a common practice because they are representing their districts.”
Kenji Fujimori said the tapes had been heavily edited to obscure the truth, and lashed out at his sister for “acting like a delinquent” in allegedly ordering the recording of his private conversations.
Amid all of the political intrigue, Peru’s chief prosecutor said he would open a preliminary investigation into possible criminal activity.
Kuczynski is accused of lying as president about $782,000 in payments his consulting firm received a decade earlier from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
Odebrecht is at the center of Latin America’s biggest graft scandal, having admitted to paying some $800 million in bribes to officials across Latin America, including $29 million to politicians in Peru.
The release of the videos capped a volatile day that started off with Kenji Fujimori announcing he will start a new political party to compete in 2021 presidential elections.
Even the party’s name, Change 21, seemed destined to deepen the siblings’ split, harkening back to the elder Fujimori’s Change 90 campaign that in 1990 ushered the then-agronomist outsider into Peru’s top office.
Goodman reported from Bogota, Colombia