Toledo arrest warrant issued
11 February 2017
On 9 February, the Peruvian courts issued an international warrant for the arrest of former president Alejandro Toledo (2001-06). As readers of the newsletter will be aware, Toledo was named by Jorge Barata, the head of Odebrecht’s operations in Lima at the time of his presidency, as having received US$20 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction company. So far, Toledo has maintained his innocence of the charges against him. At the time of writing, Toledo’s whereabouts were unknown, but he was last been heard of in Paris.
The Odebrecht scandal has shaken the Peruvian political establishment since it points to the practice of using bribes to win contracts on a systematic basis over the last 30 years. Although Toledo is the first ‘pez gordo’ to be fished out for justice, future revelations are likely to involve payments to senior politicians and officials during the governments of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), Alan García (2006-11) and Ollanta Humala (2011-16).
The accusations against Toledo relate to payments he allegedly received in order to facilitate the signing of contracts with Odebrecht for the construction of the Inter-Oceanic Highway linking southern Peru with western Brazil. However, Odebrecht was not the only Brazilian construction company to benefit from the contracts, and others are under investigation. As well as Toledo, the current president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, may face questions since he was prime minister at the time the contract with Odebrecht was signed; the current prime minister, Fernando Zavala was minister of economy and finance.
The Odebrecht disclosures have led to a row between the Congress and the judicial branch over competences and information flows. As of 10 February, the public prosecutor’s office (Ministerio Público) was holding its own in refusing to pass on confidential information received from the Brazilian authorities to the Congress’s investigation commission into the scandal. The Ministerio Público cites its autonomy and the need to respect confidentiality.
The Congressional Commission was set up on 6 January with a majority of its members belonging to the pro-Fujimori Fuerza Popular grouping and chaired by one of its number. The Fujimoristas are clearly keen to exploit the discomfiture of Toledo and other members of his government, since it was Toledo who took over following the collapse of the Fujimori regime and helped disclose the extent of corruption that took place during the Fujimori decade. It was during Toledo’s government that Fujimori was arrested in Chile and subsequently extradited to Peru to stand trial for corruption and human rights violations.
The disclosures of corruption under Toledo will no doubt serve further to undermine trust in the Peruvian political class as a whole, especially if other presidents are shown to have taken advantage of the bribes on offer from construction companies. Trust in politicians (and, indeed, democratic institutions) was already very low in Peru compared to other countries in Latin America, according to the data published by organisations like Latinobarómetro and the Latin American Public Opinion polls from Vanderbilt University.