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Weekly Report - 01 November 2018

PERU: Keiko Fujimori jailed for three years

A judge sentenced opposition leader Keiko Fujimori on 31 October to three years of preventive detention, pending further investigation of bribe-taking from Odebrecht, the Brazilian civil engineering company. The decision may upend Peruvian politics.

Judge Richard Concepción ordered Fujimori, the leader of the right-wing Fuerza Popular (FP), the country’s main opposition party, to spend three years in preventive detention, on charges of laundering money for Odebrecht and of seeking to obstruct the subsequent investigations. Fujimori had already spent a week in detention in October before being released on appeal. She is accused of accepting an illicit campaign contribution of US$1.2m in the 2011 presidential elections.

Concepción also referred to recent leaks of conversations from La Botica, an online chat group used by the FP leadership, which show the party was orchestrating attacks designed to undermine the credibility of José Domingo Pérez, the prosecutor in the case against Fujimori, and to defend the attorney general Pedro Chávarry, at the centre of a major corruption scandal in the judiciary. This, Concepción said, indicated the presence of a “suspected criminal organisation, which began to interfere with the justice system”.

The decision is a major blow for Fujimori and her party, both of whom deny wrongdoing. FP has been in disarray in recent weeks, and it is not yet clear how it will recover. The party has zigzagged between angry attacks on the government led by President Martín Vizcarra and calls for a new constructive dialogue.

As recently as 29 October Fujimori had called for talks without preconditions on a “national re-encounter” which she said should go ahead irrespective of the outcome of her trial. But after Fujimori was jailed for three years the party adopted a much angrier tone. Deputy Miguel Torres, who as head of the ‘transition committee’ is the temporary party leader (following the resignation of general secretary José Chlimper last week), described Fujimori as “the first political prisoner in Peru” and went on to say her treatment was “shameful”, with the three-year detention dictated by a judge who lacked impartiality, violating both due process and the presumption of innocence.

The government is in no rush to start talks with FP. Torres had written a letter formally requesting talks on a “consensus agenda” for the country but, according to Prime Minister César Villanueva, the government’s immediate answer is “not now”. The La Botica chats, where Vizcarra is described as a “liar” and a “traitor”, may have played a part. Villanueva said the government would wait until Fujimori’s legal situation was clarified. He said, “They’ve insulted the president with words that are inappropriate in political discussion. So, in time, let’s see whether things change to allow us to talk with everyone, not just with one party”.

One of the key decisions facing FP is whether it should seek confrontation – strikes and demonstrations to try and force Fujimori’s release – or whether it should adopt a lower key and persist with calls for dialogue. While still the largest party in the country, the corruption allegations have eroded FP’s support and bolstered the popularity of Vizcarra.

There is also a real possibility that Fujimori’s political career could be at stake. If she ends up serving the three-year prison detention (which is subject to appeal) she could see her chances of running for the presidency a third time in 2021 sharply reduced. Fujimori’s vicissitudes might provide an opportunity for her brother Kenji Fujimori at some stage in the future to assert control over the party that expelled him and conduct a thorough clear-out.

  • Flight risk

Judge Richard Concepción ruled that Keiko Fujimori was “a serious flight risk” as there was “serious suspicion” that she was involved in money laundering connected to Odebrecht. Fujimori’s lawyer, Giulliana Loza, said that she would appeal her client’s three-year preventive detention next week.