Peru's Kuczynski: the 'gringo' who stepped down over Odebrecht links


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 stepped down in ignominy after a little over 18 months in power.

Elected in June 2016, Kuczynski was accustomed to life at the top, having held key positions in both private and public spheres throughout his career, insisting "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.

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 promising 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.

- Resignation -

On Wednesday, the day before he was to face an impeachment vote, he addressed the nation from behind a polished conference table, his grim-faced cabinet standing behind him.

"Faced with this difficult situation that unfairly makes me appear guilty, I think the best thing for the country is for me to resign the presidency of the republic," he said.

It was a far cry from the consummate businessman who had appeared relaxed and confident as lawmakers considered corruption accusations against him connected to the disgraced Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

But pressure built on Kuczynski to resign throughout Wednesday after the opposition alleged he was trying to buy votes ahead of the impeachment ballot, and published videos of lawmakers apparently negotiating public works contacts with a government official that they said was proof.

He had survived an initial impeachment vote by just eight votes in December.

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.

Now, the job of leading it will fall to Martin Vizcarra, the vice-president who was serving as ambassador to Canada.

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 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.