Peru’s Attorney General Zoraida Avalos announced on Jan. 4 the opening of a preliminary investigation into President Pedro Castillo for alleged collusion and influence-peddling with companies over government public works contracts.
The latest investigation by the attorney general’s office focuses on meetings held by the president with corporate lobbyists in November 2021.
Castillo held meetings in the Government Palace, and also in the private home of businesswoman Karelim Lopez, over the construction of a bridge in one of the nation’s central Amazonian departments. Lopez’s employer, Puente Tarata III, won the project by underbidding the competition by only 27 cents.
The president also met privately with representatives from Heaven Petroleum Operation, who also won a bid to sell 280,000 barrels of biodiesel to the state-owned company PetroPeru for $74 million.
Castillo stands accused of improper intervention in the bidding process for the projects. An investigation will remain in limbo until his presidential term ends, since article 117 of the Peruvian constitution prevents criminal proceedings against a president while he holds office.
It’s the latest in a series of corruption charges and government pushback against Castillo’s administration since he took office in July last year.
Last August, Prime Minister Guido Bellido and the leader of Castillo’s socialist Peru Libre party, Vladimir Cerron, were indicted along with 15 others for money laundering.
During an investigation of former minister of defense Walter Ayala and former secretary-general of the presidential office Bruno Pacheco, Avalos summoned Castillo to give a statement regarding any involvement in the alleged abuse of authority and illegal patronage on Dec. 14.
Later that month, Castillo faced impeachment by congress on grounds of “permanent moral incapacity.” However, the measure failed to pass, securing only 46 of the 52 required votes.
Adding fuel to the fire, Pacheco was found hiding $20,000 in his bathroom, which he claimed were his personal savings.
On Dec. 28, Castillo said he received the emissaries of the attorney general’s office and cooperated with their questions regarding the investigation of Ayala and Pacheco and would do his “constitutional duty” when it came to Peruvian laws.
And the public ministry has come knocking on Castillo’s door yet again, this time for influencing the awarding of contracts.
“It’s not a surprise they’re going after him for this too,” political analyst Fernando Menendez told The Epoch Times.
According to Menendez, under-the-table deals are to be expected when the government has too much power over who gets jobs.
“It’s easy for corruption to occur in those scenarios. If everything, including job contracts, is done through the state, then corruption is inevitable.”
However, Peruvian lawyer and congresswoman Susel Paredes suggested a way around the dilemma: an amendment to article 117 in the constitution.
“Let’s get it right. If the president is a criminal, then he is accused during his term of corruption crimes, then he is convicted and removed,” Paredes said.
Castillo closed 2021 with a dismal 25 percent approval rating, which fell from 35 percent in October, according to a report from the Institute of Peruvian Studies.