Judicial corruption scandal deepens and brings changes
22 July 2018
In what is becoming an ever-evolving story of corruption, more audios continue to appear, regularly implicating the judiciary, ministers, members of Congress and politicians. Justice Minister Salvador Heresi was one of the first ones to go last week, and on 21 July Congressman Vicente Zeballos was sworn in to replace him. Zeballos had abandoned the party of Peruanos Por el Kambio in December last year after the pardon given to Alberto Fujimori, and this is in itself a signal, as his predecessor did not have any problem with the liberation of the jailed ex-president. In his new role, as well as leading on the process of judicial reform. Zeballos will have to consider whether Fujimori should return to prison.
Given the magnitude of the scandal the changes brought have been quite momentous. Not only has a Minister gone but, on 20 July Congress voted unanimously to depose all the members of the Consejo Nacional de la Magistratura (CNM). President Vizcarra had called for the meeting and for the overhaul of the whole institution. Some of its members, including its president, whose tapes had been the first to emerge, had already resigned from the CNM, but now all have been struck off. However, not all has been welcome news: Pedro Chávarry was sworn in as the new Fiscal de la Nación on 20 July in spite of there being three tapes that implicate him in the scandal. This is proof of how hard it will be to reform a system that is so compromised from within. Two other fiscales supremos voted for Chávarry, with the latter providing the tie-break vote to confirm his appointment. President Vizcarra, the Prime Minister and the Ombudsman refused to attend the swearing in ceremony that was therefore presided over by the President of Congress, the Fujimorista Luis Galarreta. Ex Justice Minister Aldo Vasquez considers the appointment is not legal as the President was not present.
The calls for Chávarry to be deposed have not ceased and the general public all over the country continues to be highly mobilized around the issue. There were marches in Cuzco, Trujillo and Lima on 19 July calling for a complete restructuring of the system. The general public is going as far as to demand a closing of Congress, and it is clear that the process of change will not be easy or straightforward. This is evident, as more information on where these tapes came from has emerged. These phone interceptions are legal as they were ordered by an investigative prosecutor in the port city of Callao to follow a series of people implicated in drug trafficking. A link was soon established with the judiciary where it became ever more clear that a series of judges were asking for money in exchange for judicial results.
A modus operandi in the court was also uncovered, where every appointment was achieved through the exchange of favours. The judges then led the investigators to the main politicians from APRA and Fuerza Popular. Congressman Héctor Becerril has been directly linked to the scandal, as have been Mauricio Mulder, Luz Salgado and Miki Torres, as well as members of the Juarado Nacional de Elecciones (JNE). Keiko Fujimori has also been implicated as many consider she is the ‘Señora K’ from ‘Fuerza Numero Uno’ mentioned in one of the audios. She provided a strong statement denying any connection with the scandal, in spite of appearing next to a large banner bearing the letter K on it. In the video Keiko Fujimori declared she could not be seen as having any connections in the judiciary having been under investigation for the past eighteen years.
There is much expectation as to what will happen in Peru after this latest scandal and there have been swift results concerning judges. The ex-president of the Supreme Court of Callao Walter Ríos has been taken into custody for 18 months while the investigation is carried out. There are rumours that he could become a collaborator in the investigation of corruption that links the judiciary with the drug trafficking mafias.
Ex-presidential candidate Veronika Mendoza has called for the revision of the sentences given by the judges found to be guilty of participating in this corruption ring, to be revised. There will be much change in the coming weeks and Vizcarra has the opportunity to take leadership of the process. It remains to be seen who else will be implicated in the coming weeks and how far or how deep the changes can be.