Phone taps reveal new judicial corruption; Vizcarra announces overhaul

15 July 2018

It was a week that rocked the Peruvian judiciary. It began with the publication of the texts of numerous phone tapping operations that compromised senior members of the judiciary. It ended with President Vizcarra sacking the justice minister, Salvador Heresi, and detailing the members of a high-level commission to reform the workings of the judicial branch.

The leaked conversations, revealed by IDL Reporteros (an institution for investigative journalism) and Panorama (a TV programme), showed leading judges using their position to grant favours in return for financial or other gain. The scandal involved members of the Consejo Nacional de la Magistratura (CNM), a Supreme Court judge and High Court judges in Callao.

One of those at the centre of the row is Supreme Court Justice César Hinostroza whose conversation with an unknown interlocutor focused on a meeting to negotiate with a certain “Señora K”, of the “Fuerza Número Uno”. It transpires that Hinojosa was the judge in charge of the case investigating money laundering with respect to Keiko Fujimori’s election expenses. Keiko has denied that “Señora K” relates to her.

On 13 July, following another leaked conversation involving Heresi, Vizcarra announced his departure from the cabinet. Heresi was a minister with close ties to the pro-Fujimori majority opposition in Congress.

The same day, he announced the names of those who will take part in the commission to suggest reforms within the judiciary. This is to be chaired by Alan Wagner, the former foreign minister. The team includes Delia Revoredo (former magistrate of the Constutional Tribunal), Samuel Abad (formerly of the Defensoría del Pueblo), Hugo Sivina (former president of the judicial branch), Eduardo Vega (former ombudsman) and Ana Revilla (former president of the office in charge of oversight of state contracts).

This is, of course, not the first time that the reputation of the judiciary is tarnished over corruption. Judicial corruption has a long history in Peru, going back not just to the decade in which Alberto Fujimori was president but well before that. Leading politicians, even presidents, have managed to manipulate the judiciary to avoid accusations of corruption.

An attempt was made in the early years of the new millennium, under the presidencies of Valentín Paniagua (2000-01) and then Alejandro Toledo (2001-06) to reform the judiciary. Another special commission was established, known as Ceriajus, to reform the workings of the judicial branch and to root out corruption. But the impetus for reform quickly evaporated, largely because of resistance within the judicial establishment itself.

The judicial investigations that accompanied the Odebrecht scandals gave rise to hope that things might be improving, but the new scandals that erupted last week confirm that corrupt networks, closely connected to political interests, have continued to flourish. The release of new evidence coincides with the departure of Pablo Sánchez, a reformer, as the chief public prosecutor (Fiscal de la Nación).

The response of Fuerza Popular, the party led by Keiko Fujimori, was to point the finger of blame at Ideele Reporteros. Luis Galarreta, the current president of Congress, announced that the oversight commission of the Congress (controlled by FP) would launch an investigation into how the phone taps (conducted wholly legally) had fallen into the hands of Gustavo Gorriti and his team.

However, the public’s response to the content of the phone taps has been overwhelming both in the media and in the streets. There is strong pressure for the removal of all the members of the CNM, but this would have to pass through Congress where the Fujimorista majority is likely to resist such a move.

It remains to be seen whether the commission manages to fulfil its objective by really cleansing the judiciary. Many doubts remain.

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