Peru's Kuczynski: the 'gringo' who survived impeachment threat


Lima (AFP)

He grew up in the Amazonian jungle, worked as a banker on Wall Street and is the cousin of famed French director Jean-Luc Godard -- now Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has narrowly avoided being impeached over graft charges.

Elected last year, Kuczynski is accustomed to wearing a suit and tie, having held top positions in both private and public spheres throughout his career, and insists "I am not a politician".

"I am an economist who wants to do something for his country," he says.

But Kuczynski has a long history in politics.

Before losing the 2011 presidential election, the center-right figure was energy minister in the 1980s and later economy minister and prime minister under Alejandro Toledo, who was president from 2001 to 2006.

A former Wall Street banker and World Bank economist, Kuczynski has also served on the boards of several companies, including some in the mining industry.

At 79, he says age is not a problem.

"They say I'm old, but my head and my experience work," he maintains.

Despite his austere airs, Kuczynski from a young age developed an interest in the arts, which he owes to his Franco-Swiss mother Madeleine Godard -- aunt of the famous filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard.

Madeleine Godard, a literature professor, in the mid-1930s met Kuczynski's father Max, a doctor from a Jewish family in Berlin who fled Germany following Adolf Hitler's rise to power.

- Peruvian 'Gringo' -

"I want to go to Latin America -- marry me, let's go," the former World War I German officer told Godard, and the couple arrived in Peru in 1936.

Doctor Kuczynski went on to treat lepers in the Amazon jungle, where the young Pedro Pablo, born in 1938, spent part of his childhood.

He and his younger brother remember how their father trained a monkey to bring him fruit.

In the 1950s Kuczynski -- by then a top musician -- studied at the prestigious Royal College of Music in London, and during his presidential bid he did not shy away from picking up the flute.

He then studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University before heading to Princeton, where he was awarded a scholarship and completed his training in public administration.

The politician speaks Spanish with a hint of an accent -- he also speaks French and English -- which has earned him the nickname "gringo" in Peru.

- Impeachment vote -

On Thursday, standing before an opposition-controlled Congress hostile to his leadership, Kuczynski appeared relaxed and confident as lawmakers considered corruption accusations against him connected to the disgraced Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

An impeachment motion put to lawmakers failed by eight votes, with 79 votes in favor, 19 against and 21 abstentions. At least 87 votes were required to approve an impeachment.

Kuczynski is accused of lying to cover up $5 million (4.2 million euros) in payments from Odebrecht, which both he and the company insist were for legitimate consulting fees.

His center-right party -- which bears his initials PPK, standing for Peruanos por el Kambio (Peruvians for Change) -- has vowed by the end of his five-year term in 2021 to provide the country's poorest citizens with drinking water, education, hospitals and improved security.

After an exceptionally tight election in 2016 against Keiko Fujimori -- which saw half the population voting to return to power the clan of Alberto Fujimori, the former president jailed for crimes against humanity and corruption -- Kuczynski has struggled to bring the divided nation together.

The Peruvian leader, who is also a Harley Davidson motorcycle enthusiast, is married to his second wife Nancy Lange. He has four children.