Peru: Prosecutor Requests Arrest of Conservative Presidential Candidate

Peruvian right-wing presidential candidate for Fuerza Popular, Keiko Fujimori, speaks during a press conference at her party headquarters in Lima on June 7, 2021. - Peru's right-wing presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori on Monday raised allegations of "irregularities" and "signs of fraud" in Sunday's election as her rival, far-left trade unionist …
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A prosecutor on the case against conservative presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori of Peru requested her preventative arrest on Thursday, less than 24 hours after Fujimori issued a request for the nation’s electoral commission to remove as many as 200,000 votes from Sunday’s presidential election due to alleged fraud.

Fujimori was arrested in 2018 on charges of taking a million-dollar bribe from Odebrecht, a disgraced Brazilian firm accused of bribing politicians in nearly every country in South America. Prosecutors are asking for a 30-year sentence in her case; the court granted her a conditional release given her nomination to the presidency and subsequent second-place finish in the April general election, which secured her one of two slots in the runoff election this week.

Fujimori contested Sunday’s presidential runoff election against Leninist candidate Pedro Castillo. At press time, with 99.998 percent of votes counted, Castillo appears to have edged out Fujimori by a little over 70,000 votes out of 18.5 million. After claiming “systematic” fraud in the election previously, Fujimori and her Popular Force party announced Wednesday a formal process to challenge as many as 200,000 votes already counted in the rolls, claiming evidence suggests Castillo’s Free Peru party illegally tampered with the ballots.

During the press conference announcing the legal process, prosecutor José Domingo Pérez wrote a formal document requesting Fujimori’s arrest, obtained by the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, proving Fujimori had violated the provisions of her conditional release.

“Once again it has been determined that the accused Fujimori Higuchi is not complying with the restriction of not communicating with witnesses,” the prosecutor wrote. “It has been noted as an open and notorious fact that she is communicating with witness Miguel Torres Morales.”

Torres is an attorney for Popular Force and is working on the case to annul presidential election votes, a proximity Pérez argues violates the conditions of Fujimori’s freedom prior to her trial. As a longtime party employee, Torres is among those considered a witness to the accusations that Fujimori took illicit bribes from Odebrecht for presidential campaigns in 2011 and 2016. Both of the candidates Fujimori faced in those elections – Ollanta Humala and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, respectively – went on to become president and stand accused of taking bribes from Odebrecht; Kuczynski was removed by Congress and Humala imprisoned. A third Peruvian president, Alan García, killed himself in 2019 when police arrived at his home to investigate accusations of taking bribes from Odebrecht. A fourth, Keiko’s father Alberto Fujimori, is serving 25 years in prison – some of it alongside Humala – for unrelated allegations of crimes against humanity.

Peruvian law enforcement is also investigating Pedro Castillo for allegedly falsifying paperwork to get on the ballot, failing to note a position he holds as the head of a private company on his releases.

As of press time Thursday, the impact of the prosecutor’s request on the presidential race remains unclear. Peru’s National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE), responsible for counting votes, has at this time completed the count on 99.998 percent of the vote. Castillo received 50.204 percent of votes while Fujimori is slightly below at 49.976 percent, a difference of 71,441 votes. Should Peru’s National Election Court (JNE) accept Popular Force’s demand to erase as many as 200,000 votes from the total, the result could reverse and grant Fujimori the presidency.

Popular Force is specifically contesting votes counted at 802 wards, claiming election irregularities, party officials said late Wednesday.

“This information has been analyzed scrupulously by our party’s entire legal team and that is why … Popular Force is presenting today actions of nullification against 802 wards at the national level, actions being presented to the National Election Court,” Fujimori announced.

Popular Force had previously announced actions to challenge the impugning and removal of another 300,000 votes from the roles. “Impugning” is a process by which parties can challenge ballots that appear improperly filled out, questionable regarding the intent of the person filling it out, or otherwise unusable.

Peru’s RPP noted on Wednesday that Fujimori indeed has the right to make these challenges through Article 363 of the Organic Election Law of Peru. To win the case, her party must prove “fraud, bribery, intimidation, or violence to influence the vote” on the party of an election poll worker or another relevant individual.

The president of the JNE, Jorge Luis Salas Arenas, said on Wednesday that the court should proceed to analyze the allegations as publicly as possible.

Castillo’s win would represent a significant lurch leftward for Peru, emerging out of a tumultuous year in which it had three presidents, including one that lasted five days. Castillo’s Free Peru party platform openly praises Fidel Castro and Vladimir Lenin and those around Castillo have floated the possibility of property seizures and other communist policies following a win, though Castillo has personally insisted that he would not govern that way.

The Lima stock market crashed this week, losing about $23.4 million in value, following news that Castillo would be the probable next president of the country.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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