LIMA, Peru — A day after tendering his resignation, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the third Peruvian president to fall victim to Latin America’s rumbling corruption mega-scandal, appeared to be facing increasing legal jeopardy.
According to local reports, prosecutors have requested that Kuczynski be barred from leaving the country until they finalize their investigations into his dealings with the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht SA, which has admittedpaying about $800 million in bribes to win public contracts in a dozen countries, mostly in Latin America.
The move marks yet another humiliation for the 79-year-old center-right economist, whose surprise election in July 2016 was widely hailed as an advance for Peruvian governance. Elected in part on his promises to tackle rampant corruption, the Oxford- and Princeton-educated former senior World Bank official was regarded as a distinguished technocrat a cut apart from most of Peru’s unpopular political class.
But his downfall, over allegations of using his government contacts to lobby for Odebrecht in past years — including indirectly receiving six-figure payments for work reportedly carried out during a previous stint as economy minister — appears to have left Peru’s democracy in a more fragile state than ever. Kuczynski has insisted he is innocent, having placed a “Chinese wall” between his public work and his consulting firm, and said that the payments were for work done by business partners of which he was unaware. That explanation has failed to convince many Peruvians.
Some analysts are now comparing Peru’s plight to that of Brazil, where the Odebrecht scandal has tarnished virtually the entire political class and left the country with an unelected and unpopular chief executive following the 2016 impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff.
Kuczynski’s successor, Vice President Martín Vizcarra, was due to be sworn in to the top job on Friday and faces the urgent task of forming a new cabinet just three weeks before Lima hosts the Summit of the Americas, to be attended by Donald Trump and other heads of state in the Western Hemisphere. The theme of the meeting, proposed by the Kuczynski administration, is “democratic governance against corruption.”
Despite leaving office with an 81 percent disapproval rating, Kuczynski was just about as unpopular as the Congress that forced him out. Its disapproval rating is 82 percent, according to a new survey by polling firm GFK, an indication of how generalized corruption, and the Odebrecht scandal in particular, have ravaged Peruvians’ faith in their elected leaders. Nearly half the electorate wants an immediate general election, according to polls.
One previous president of Peru, Ollanta Humala, is in pretrial detention for allegedly receiving illegal campaign funding from Odebrecht, Latin America’s largest engineering firm, while another, Alejandro Toledo, a former visiting lecturer at Stanford University, is fighting extradition from the United States on charges he took millions of dollars in bribes. They both deny wrongdoing.
Here in Peru, Kuczynski is hardly the only politician who has been seriously damaged in the last few days. Keiko Fujimori’s estranged younger brother, Kenji, is now facing expulsion from Congress after being caught on video apparently offering kickbacks to legislators in return for voting against impeachment.
The video of Kenji Fujimori was taped clandestinely by a lawmaker loyal to his sister. For many Peruvians, the surreptitious recording brought back painful memories of the corruption and blackmail techniques used by the Fujimori regime two decades ago.