AP Explains: The arrest of Peru powerbroker Keiko Fujimori

LIMA, Peru (AP) — A Peruvian judge on Tuesday ruled that opposition leader Keiko Fujimori must be held in prison for 15 months while she is investigated for possible money laundering. Fujimori is an influential power broker in the Andean nation and is accused of taking money from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. She says she is innocent. Here are more details on her case.

WHO IS KEIKO FUJIMORI?

Fujimori is a two-time presidential candidate and heir to one of the country’s most powerful political dynasties. Her father Alberto Fujimori was president in the 1990s and still divides public opinion in Peru.

Keiko Fujimori lost the 2016 presidential election by less than 1% of the vote but her party, Popular Force, gained a commanding majority of seats in the nation’s congress, which it later used to start impeachment proceedings against then-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

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Popular Force obtained documents that showed Kucyznski had owned a consulting firm that took hefty sums from the Brazilian company, which has acknowledged paying out $800 million in bribes to politicians in a dozen countries. Facing impeachment and little support in congress, Kuczynski resigned in 2018.

WHAT IS SHE ACCUSED OF?

Prosecutors maintain that Fujimori took more than a million dollars from Odebrecht herself, for her 2011 and 2016 presidential campaigns, violating the nation’s laws. Prosecutors also accuse Fujimori of hiding the money through a complex network of dozens of frontmen. Fujimori claims she is innocent and is being persecuted by rivals who want to destroy her political movement.

In October of 2018, a judge ruled that Fujimori should be jailed while prosecutors investigated her, arguing that she could flee the country if she was not placed in custody. That sentence was overturned last year by a high court, which said her human rights had been violated and that she could not be imprisoned if she hadn’t been found guilty of a crime. While Fujimori was in prison, her American husband held a two-week long hunger strike to demand her freedom.

WHY IS SHE GOING BACK TO PRISON?

After Fujimori was freed from prison last year, prosecutors went back to the courts with new evidence of her alleged dealings with Odebrecht. On Tuesday, Judge Victor Zuñiga ruled that Fujimori should return to prison because there is probable likelihood that she was involved in money laundering and because she could still evade justice by escaping from Peru.

WHY IS HER ARREST IMPORTANT?

Fujimori’s arrest is part of a broader crackdown on corruption that Peruvian prosecutors have been waging for years. Over the past decade four former Peruvian presidents have been issued arrest warrants for their alleged dealings with Odebrecht. One former president hid in the United States, was captured and is now awaiting extradition. Another former president committed suicide at his home in Lima as police officers got ready to arrest him.

Peru’s current President Martin Vizcarra dissolved the nation’s congress last year after parliamentarians refused to back his anti-corruption measures. An election was held on Sunday to pick a new congress.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Fujimori will have to prepare her defense from behind prison bars, and face a lengthy trial. Meanwhile her political influence is diminishing. In Sunday’s election Popular Force only gained 12 seats in Peru’s 130 member congress. Previously the party held 72 seats.

The party has been deeply divided since 2018, when Keiko Fujimori’s brother, congressman Kenji Fujimori, was expelled from its ranks. Their father, Alberto Fujimori was condemned to 25 years in prison for committing human rights abuses. But many Peruvians still praise the elder Fujimori, arguing that he fixed a broken economy and defeated guerrilla groups that terrorized the country in the 1990s.

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