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Peru’s Vizcarra ready to dismiss prosecutor over Odebrecht corruption probe

Carlos Lezama, Peruvian Presidency, AFP | President Martin Vizcarra announced on January 1, 2019, that he seek a state of emergency for the Public Prosecutor’s Office

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra is set to ask Congress to declare the public prosecutor’s office in a state of emergency after the agency’s top official removed two key investigators at the heart of a probe into a major graft scandal.

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The two agents – ex-chief prosecutor Jose Domingo Perez and former fiscal coordinator Rafael Vela  had been leading an investigation into whether people at the highest level of power had accepted vast sums of money from Brazilian construction group Odebrecht.

The team Perez and Vela helped lead had targeted four former Peruvian presidents, the current opposition leader and several construction companies. All have denied wrongdoing.

Attorney General Pedro Chavarry’s decision to remove Perez and Vela was announced days after Perez accused Chavarry of allegedly obstructing justice in a separate case involving several judges accused of corruption.

Public outcry

Chavarry, said the duo had failed to respect authority at the agency, but Chavrry’s move prompted a public outcry, where there is strong support for the president’s anti-corruption crusade.

There have been two nights of wide-spread protests across the country, with the capital Lima seeing thousands of people take to the streets, shouting their support for the removed prosecutors.

“The people support you!” the marchers cried out.

Peru’s Vizcarra, who had been attending the inauguration of President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, cut short his trip to deal with the public uproar declaring he would fight “corruption and impunity”.

“The attorney general is profoundly damaging the interests of Peru and causing outrage among citizens,” he said in a terse statement backing the will of the protestors.

Vizcarra said he would personally present a bill to Peru’s Congress at 1 pm local time (1800 GMT) on Wednesday seeking the state of emergency, and asked for legislative support to usher it through quickly and without conflict.

“We will use all the tools in our Constitution to overturn this decision, and we ask that all branches of government do the same,” Vizcarra told reporters after meeting with his cabinet and advisers in Lima.

A state of emergency would allow Vizcarra to quickly and efficiently make changes to personnel he deems necessary to advance the high-profile investigation.

Fines of $180mn sought by deposed agents

The two deposed investigators had earlier this month declared they would seek fines of approximately $180 million from politicians, businessmen and companies for taking kickbacks involving Odebrecht construction projects in Peru.

Odebrecht in 2016 admitted in a plea deal with US, Brazilian and Swiss authorities that it had bribed officials in dozens of countries, including Peru.

The president said on Monday that Odebrecht should not be able to continue working in Peru because the Brazilian construction company was “contaminated” and had admitted bribing public officials.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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