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President of Peru accused of leading a criminal organisation

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“Today we present to the Congress of the Republic the constitutional complaint against President Pedro Castillo Terrones and the other members of the alleged criminal organisation,” announced the Peruvian Attorney General, Patricia Benavides, at an appearance in Lima.

The Peruvian Attorney General filed a constitutional complaint against President Pedro Castillo on 11 October. Castillo denied all charges and accused the prosecutor’s office of having no evidence against him. The president said that he is the victim of “political persecution” and that despite this, he will not seek political asylum or leave the country.

In Peru, presidents have immunity and cannot be accused of crimes by the courts. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, a constitutional complaint is a procedure to determine whether persons with immunity have committed crimes, such as abuse of authority or corruption, during the exercise of their functions. It is the first time in Peruvian republican history that this procedure has been applied against a sitting president. Pedro Castillo has described the accusation as a “new form of coup d’état”. The president has six open investigations and has been accused since the presidential campaign, an unprecedented situation. His time in government has been marked by his alleged links to the political arms of terrorist groups, accusations of being extreme left-wing and links to the corruption he was supposed to fight.

Peru’s Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Félix Chero, denounced that there is a “systematic plan to remove President Pedro Castillo from office.” He cited article 117 of the Peruvian Constitution to explain that the investigations to which Castillo has been subjected are not sufficient grounds to impeach the president. Article 117 of the Constitution states that the president of Peru can only be impeached during his term on the following grounds: treason, impeding elections of any kind and dissolving Congress except in the cases provided for in Article 134. According to the Peruvian Constitution, the president could also be impeached for impeding the meeting or functioning of Congress or the National Jury of Elections and other bodies of the electoral system. Analysts agree that Castillo can be investigated, although they do not consider that article 117 covers the accusations that have been made against the president, making the constitutional complaint illegal.

The six preliminary accusations range from promotions in the armed forces to allegedly illegally awarded works. The prosecution accuses Castillo and members of his criminal organisation of repeatedly obstructing justice. At the end of August, when his sister-in-law, Yenifer Paredes, was remanded in custody, the president replaced the police leadership after anti-corruption agents and prosecutors raided the government palace in search of Paredes. Yenifer Paredes was accused by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of being part of a criminal network led by Pedro Castillo and his wife, Lilia Paredes. Also, the president has been accused by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of influence peddling and collusion in three separate cases.

In May, arrest warrants were issued for two of the president’s nephews, Fray Vásquez Castillo and Gian Marco Castillo Gómez, who has since remained at large, and his sister-in-law, Yenifer Paredes, who was imprisoned on 31 August. The network in which Paredes allegedly took part is accused of seeking to profit from public contracts with the Ministry of Housing. Castillo’s sister-in-law was recorded in July as irregularly managing sanitation works in a municipality in Chota, where he is president. Mariano González, the former Minister of Interior, told the media after being dismissed in the middle of the same month that he was dismissed in retaliation for having assigned the most competent police officers to the division in charge of tracking down fugitives such as Castillo’s nephews.

Following the constitutional complaint, President Castillo said in a message to the nation that he is the victim of “neo-coupists”, who are trying to prevent him from finishing his term in office. “In this desire to destabilise, the neo-coupists don’t care about anything. Neither the people, nor the country, nor the family. I am suffering in my own flesh. My daughter, my wife, my whole family, have been attacked, with the sole purpose of destroying me, because they don’t want me to finish my mandate,” he said. “I am not corrupt, and I repeat this until the end of my days. On the contrary, my commitment is the same as before and the same as always, to fight to end this scourge that damages the country so much. However, if some have betrayed my trust, let justice deal with them.”

The Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States (OAS) met on 20 October in an extraordinary session to consider the situation in Peru. President Pedro Castillo and Foreign Minister César Landa warned the OAS of a coup d’état in a “new modality”. A day after the Attorney General’s complaint, the government requested the application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in order to “preserve democratic institutions and the legitimate exercise of power.”

Article 17 states that when a state considers that the democratic political process or the exercise of power in its territory is at risk, it can turn to the Secretary-General or the Permanent Council of the OAS for assistance. While article 18 specifies that in situations of risk, the international entity will carry out visits and steps to analyse the situation of the country presumed to be at risk.

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