This article first appeared in La Razon on August 28, 2021.
Peruvian prosecutors and police raided this Saturday the offices of the ruling leftist Peru Libre party in an investigation into electoral campaign financing, on the same day that President Pedro Castillo celebrates one month in power.
The raid of seven properties, including the house of the questioned head of the party, Vladimir Cerron, was authorized by Judge Carlos Sanchez at the request of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The latter opened a preliminary case against Perú Libre for alleged money laundering, which includes Castillo’s new chief of staff, Guido Bellido.
The judge authorized the “house search, seizure of goods […], the breaking of locks, closets, lockers, private offices […], safes and safety boxes” of those offices and houses, according to a court document.
Prosecutor Richard Rojas led the raids on three properties in Lima and four in the Andean city of Huancayo, where Cerrón, who was sentenced in 2019 to a four-year suspended prison term for corruption while governor of that region (Junín), resides. The sentence prevented him from being Castillo’s vice-presidential candidate.
The prosecutor’s preliminary investigation is directed against Bellido and Cerrón, a Cuban-trained physician, as well as against the Peru Libre party, as a legal entity.
“The leaders of Peru Libre have to submit to justice like the leaders of other parties,” political analyst Hugo Otero told AFP.
“The fact of having responsibility in the government does not exempt them from the judicial investigation,” he added.
Turbulent first month
Founded by Cerrón in 2008 as a political movement headquartered in Huancayo, Peru Libre defines itself as Marxist-Leninist. It came to the forefront in April when Castillo caused a surprise in the first round of elections by leading among 18 candidates.
With the triumph of Castillo, a rural teacher from Cajamarca (north), over the right-wing Keiko Fujimori in the June 6 runoff, Peru Libre became the first provincial party to reach power in the country.
In April it had won the largest bench in the fragmented Peruvian Congress, 37 out of 130, forcing it to seek alliances.
The raids began at dawn without setbacks and continued in the afternoon, according to local media.
They take place on the day when Castillo celebrates one month in power, a period marked by the siege of the opposition and calls from radical right-wing leaders for his removal, and the day after the Congress gave a vote of confidence to the cabinet headed by Bellido, which allowed him to remain in office.
The vote in Congress was the first test for the government of Castillo, which took office on July 28 after five years of clashes between the Executive and the Legislature, while uncertainty raises clouds over the Peruvian economy, which is trying to leave behind the harmful effects of the pandemic.
Disputes between the new government and the opposition cost Chancellor Héctor Béjar his job on August 17.
The opposition expected more changes of ministers, but Castillo refused. In the midst of a tug of war, Congress approved the confidence of the cabinet by 73 votes against 50.
“Not even a janitor”.
Accusations of corruption and money laundering have hovered around Peruvian politicians for five years, when the scandal of illegal contributions from the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht broke out, splashing four former presidents and Keiko Fujimori.
She denies the charges, but spent 16 months in preventive detention and should soon go to trial.
Lima media present Cerrón as the power behind the throne in the new government and a poll showed that 48% of Peruvians think he is the one in charge of the country.
During the campaign, Fujimori directed his darts at Cerrón more than Castillo. In response, the latter assured that the party leader would not occupy positions in his government, “not even as a janitor”.
The bitter campaign for the runoff, the six-week delay in proclaiming the winner, and the questioning of ministers raised tensions in Peru, driving the dollar to record highs and the stock market down.