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Peru president calls on Spain to arrest fugitive judge

© Peruvian Presidency/AFP | Photo released by the Peruvian Presidency of President Martin Vizcarra speaking to a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Regional Program in Lima on October 18, 2018. Vizcarra urged Spain to arrest sacked Supreme Court judge Cesar Hinostroza, who fled the country while facing trial over an influence peddling scandal.

LIMA (AFP) - 

Peru's president called on Spain Thursday to arrest a sacked Supreme Court judge who fled the South American country while facing trial over a massive influence peddling scandal that forced the resignation of the interior minister.

Interior Minister Mauro Medina resigned late Wednesday after it became clear the dismissed judge, Cesar Hinostroza, had slipped over the border to Ecuador and boarded a flight to Madrid.

"The criminals will have to answer to justice," President Martin Vizcarra said. "We are sure that Spain will not protect those who are required to face Peruvian justice."

A Spanish foreign ministry source confirmed Hinostroza had entered the country on Wednesday. "We are waiting to receive the requests being processed by the Peruvian authorities," the source told AFP.

Meanwhile, Peruvian authorities stopped Hinostroza's 16-year-old daughter from boarding a flight to Madrid.

The scandal has dogged Vizcarra's government since it broke only months into his term in July, when a website released audio tapes featuring Hinostroza and other judges selling lighter sentences for a price.

The 62-year-old judge -- sacked from the Supreme Court by Congress a fortnight ago -- is the central figure in a scandal that has shocked Peru, seen protests erupt in several cities and prompted Vizcarra to promise sweeping judicial reforms.

- 'Fled clandestinely'-

The president said the judge had "fled clandestinely" as he was awaiting trial for leading a "criminal organization" and other crimes.

He crossed the border into Ecuador and boarded a flight to Spain via Amsterdam, the government said late Wednesday.

Medina immediately resigned, becoming the second member of Vizcarra's cabinet to lose his job over the scandal, following the sacking of justice minister Salvador Heresi in July.

Heresi was among those heard on the tapes allegedly arranging lenient treatment for convicts in exchange for cash or favors. Twelve people have been jailed so far as part of the investigation.

In one of the tapes, Hinostroza is heard talking to an unidentified person about lowering the sentence of a man who had raped an 11-year-old girl.

- Seeking asylum -

Prime Minister Cesar Villanueva said Lima had begun efforts to have the judge extradited from Spain.

"We are looking for the expulsion of Hinostroza," he told reporters.

He said the fugitive judge, shortly after his arrival in Madrid, "approached a police station to request asylum, which was rejected."

The interior ministry said Thursday two police officers and two diplomats were standing by to travel to Spain to bring Hinostroza back.

Vizcarra, who was speaking as he opened a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Lima, said corruption cases "endanger democracy" and the economy of Peru.

"The criminals who have fled will have to respond to justice," he said.

Supreme Court president Duberli Rodriguez, as well as an appeals-court judge and three members of the National Council of Magistrates -- which appoints judges and prosecutors -- have resigned or been suspended as the scandal has reverberated through the Andean country of 32 million.

While Rodriguez has not himself been accused of wrongdoing, he resigned, saying he accepted responsibility as president of the nation's judiciary.

The scandal began with the release of the 20 recordings, which were originally made by police as prosecutors tried to track a drug-trafficking ring operating in Callao, Peru's main port, near Lima.

Hinostroza was dismissed on October 4 by Congress and disqualified from holding public office for 10 years.

© 2018 AFP