Key moments leading to pardon of Peru's ex-leader Fujimori

Lima (AFP) –


Peru's president justified pardoning jailed ex-leader Alberto Fujimori by saying it would help heal the country's divisions. Cynics say it was really aimed at saving Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's own imperiled presidency.

Here are some of the key events leading up to the controversial Christmas Eve pardon.

- Chaos, peace and corruption -

Alberto Fujimori, a math professor of Japanese origin, was democratically elected president in 1990 by defeating future Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa in a runoff vote. Outgoing president Alan Garcia was leaving Peru in economic disarray and at war with two violent leftist insurgencies.

Fujimori imposed strict free-market economic reforms, and then launched a "self-coup" with military support in April 1992 that shuttered the Supreme Court and a bickering Congress.

Using strong-arm tactics the police and military captured the leaders of the Tupac Amaru and Shining Path guerrilla groups and crushed the insurgencies.

Fujimori was easily re-elected in 1995, but his questionable re-election in 2000 took place amid a swirling corruption and espionage scandal involving his close aide Vladimiro Montesinos.

Fujimori flew to Japan, the land of his parents, and resigned via fax on November 19, 2000. Two days later Peru's Congress ousted him on grounds of "moral incapacity."

Many Peruvians still fondly recall Fujimori as the strongman who stabilized the country's chaotic economy and defeated the feared insurgents.

- Massacres, kidnappings -

Fujimori obtained Japanese citizenship and even launched an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the Japanese Diet. But he remained in touch with his supporters in Peru, and hoping to be closer to home he traveled to neighboring Chile in 2005.

Peruvian authorities quickly asked for his extradition. After years of legal challenges, Chile extradited him in September 2007.

Peru's ex-leader was put on trial on charges relating to Human Rights abuses and corruption. He was eventually found guilty of ordering two massacres carried out by military death squads, as well as the kidnapping of a journalist and a businessman.

In April 2009 the former strongman was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

- Strong 'Fujimorista' party -

Fast forward to 2016, when Kuczynski -- an ex-cabinet minister, Wall Street executive and World Bank official -- was narrowly elected president over Fujimori's daughter, lawmaker Keiko Fujimori. She was also the runner-up four years earlier, losing to Alan Garcia seeking a second term in office.

Keiko may have lost, but her party, Popular Force, won an absolute majority in Congress. The 'Fujimoristas' proceeded to forcefully oppose Kuczynski's policies and even toppled cabinet members.

On December 21 the 'Fujimoristas' and small leftist parties held a vote to impeach Kuczynski, accusing him of taking $5 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht and lying to cover his tracks.

With little support in Congress, it seemed certain that Kuczynski would be ousted -- but the motion failed when 10 lawmakers, including Keiko's lawmaker brother Kenji Fujimori, abstained from voting.

- Is Kuczynski lying? -

Fujimori supporters had long been seeking a pardon for the ailing ex-president on health grounds, so the sudden pardon after the failed impeachment vote smells like a backroom deal.

The whole affair is a blow to Kuczynski's credibility.

For year the president insisted that he would not pardon Fujimori. And for years he denied any links with Odebrecht -- until the company itself made the dealings public.

Kuczynski's choice was simple according to El Comercio, Peru's top newspaper: either grant the pardon or face removal.

As a result, "everyone who believes that Kuczynski lies is correct," the paper's lead editorial read.

Three lawmakers and a cabinet minister opposed to the pardon have quit the governing party, and more resignations are expected.