Protests in Peru as Team Investigating Odebrecht Corruption Is Dismissed
LIMA, Peru — Peru’s attorney general dismissed a team investigating the far-reaching Odebrecht corruption scandal late Monday, setting off street protests in cities across the country.
President Martín Vizcarra quickly denounced the move, saying that it undercut Peru’s drive to purge corruption.
“The head-on fight against corruption and impunity is a priority of this government,” he said on Twitter.
Two of the five supreme prosecutors called the decision by the attorney general, Pedro Chavarry, “a death blow” to the anticorruption fight and urged him to reverse it.
The dismissal came just weeks before Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction giant, was set to reveal critical evidence against powerful former Peruvian officials.
Executives at the company have acknowledged that it distributed millions in bribes across Latin America, including $29 million in Peru, to obtain lucrative government contracts.
The prosecutor’s office is investigating all of the Peruvian presidents who governed from 2001 to 2018 over accusations of corruption and money laundering.
Mr. Chavarry’s action set off demonstrations by hundreds of people in four cities, including Lima, the capital. Protesters shouted phrases like “Out with Chavarry” as they waved Peruvian flags.
The attorney general called a news conference to announce his decision, but he then took no questions. He said the dismissal was necessary to nullify the appointment of the prosecutor heading the team of investigators.
The removal imperils an agreement with Odebrecht to participate in the investigation entailing around 40 separate cases.
“I fear that the Brazilian company will back off because it is not going to have guarantees of what had been achieved with the prosecutors,” one of the Odebrecht prosecutors, Jorge Ramirez, told a local radio station.
Another prosecutor, Jose Domingo Perez, was investigating the opposition leader Keiko Fujimori over accusations that she laundered $1.2 million from the construction company for her 2011 presidential campaign. Ms. Fujimori, the leader of the Popular Force Party, is imprisoned for 36 months while she is being investigated.
Mr. Perez was also investigating former President Alan Garcia over accusations that he received $100,000 from Odebrecht, and got a judge to bar the former president from leaving Peru.
Mr. Perez returned to his office at night to safeguard the documentation of the cases he investigates.
“I feel indignant, disappointed,” he told reporters. “It is an irregular decision — the anticorruption fight is affected.”