Peru police search homes of officials in impeachment case


Lima (AFP)

Police in Peru raided the homes of key government officials in Lima on Saturday as part of an investigation into allegations that President Martin Vizcarra obstructed a graft probe that will see him face impeachment proceedings next week.

Congress voted late Friday to open impeachment proceedings against Vizcarra for "moral incapacity" over accusations he incited aides to lie to investigators.

"Searches were carried out of eight properties of people under investigation and witnesses in the case of alleged irregularities in the hiring of Richard Cisneros Carballido as a consultant to the Ministry of Culture," the public prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Vizcarra, in power since 2018, came under fire after audio recordings were leaked in which he is heard telling aides to hide details of his office's hiring of Cisneros, a popular singer, as a paid cultural advisor.

One of the properties searched is the home of a top presidential official, Miriam Morales. The home of another key assistant to Vizcarra, Karem Roca, was also raided.

Both feature on leaked audio tapes in which Vizcarra is heard talking about the scandal and inciting them not to cooperate fully with investigators.

- 'Plot against democracy' -

Cisneros' home was also searched, as well as those of five officials from the culture ministry, which hired the singer between 2018 and this year for about $50,000.

Fourteen people are currently under investigation in the probe, led by provincial prosecutor Janny Sanchez Porturas.

All of them are being investigated for "aggravated collusion and incompatible negotiation to the detriment of the state," according to the Attorney General Office.

Vizcarra, 57, denied having intervened in the details of the singer's contract, whom he said he met during the 2016 election campaign.

Vizcarra was then a candidate for vice-president alongside Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, his predecessor who was forced to resign in March 2018, after impeachment proceedings were launched against him over a corruption scandal.

Following Friday's vote, the 130-member Congress is to hold an impeachment vote on September 18.

Vizcarra said he had done nothing wrong and was the victim of a "plot against democracy" in the South American country.

The president has won popular support for an anti-corruption crusade that has put him at loggerheads with opponents in Congress, including over a reform banning convicted criminals from standing for election.

In the event of impeachment, legislative speaker Manuel Merino will act as interim leader until the current presidential term ends in July 2021.