Bad timing. The revelations about how top business executives illicitly funded the political campaigns of those they thought would benefit their interests came only days before the annual meeting of executives (CADE), this year in a big tent at Paracas near Pisco.
And, as the CADE meeting was drawing to a close, the offices of Confiep, the business association at the heart of attempts to bankroll Keiko Fujimori’s 2011, were raided by order of the public prosecutor’s office.
In her inaugural address to CADE, Elena Conterno, the president of IPAE (the organisation that hosts the event), said “as leaders, business people, politicians, today we need to recognise with due humility that, unfortunately, on many occasions we have not had [the interests of] all Peruvians and ethical behaviour at the centre of our decision making”.
Luis Estrada, this year’s CADE president, made much the same point, referring to the record of repeated scandals involving business. “Lava Jato, Cuellos Blancos, the Construction Club have exposed the precarious nature of our leaders. Many of them lacking form, ethical principles, [and] geared more towards personal gain than the common good”.
Such public breast-beating is not the normal way in which the business community addresses itself to the wider public. And it probably will not last. Executives prefer the safer world of anonymity where they make money, not waves.
However, the disclosure of Dionisio Romero that he paid US$3.65 million to fund the election campaign of Keiko Fujimori in 2011 will not easily be brushed under the carpet, not least because of the sheer volume of cash involved.
It is akin to the moment when the tapes of Vladimiro Montesinos were screened back in 2000. The public may have suspected corruption in high places, but to see on TV wads of money being transferred to bribe opinion formers of one sort or another came as a rude shock, helping to bring the Fujimori government down.
How right-wing politicians fund their election campaigns may also have invited suspicions of businessmen seeking political advantage, but for one of Peru’s top business executives to admit it openly to judicial authorities was also a transcendent moment when all was made clear.
As we noted last week, Confiep appears to have played a central role in rallying other business contributions (likewise never declared) for Keiko’s campaign. The raid on its offices in San Isidro on 29 November represents yet another milestone in attempts to get to grips with business corruption. Public Prosecutor José Domingo Pérez, who has played a key role in investigating the affairs of powerful interests and who has received repeated threats for his efforts, ordered the search of Confiep’s premises.
With various elections pending next year and in 2021, there will be more than usual interest in how politicians pay for the expensive business of getting elected. Will the practices change? Will the electoral authorities be a bit more observant? Will the state step in and increase the money they give to candidates for their campaigns? Time alone will tell.