Investigations into the wife of the Peruvian president for money laundering have been opened for a third time. While there may be political motivates for the dogged pursuit of the politically ambitious first lady, such scrutiny is warranted in a country where politicians are notoriously corrupt.
At the end of January, prosecutor Ricardo Rojas Leon reopened a money laundering investigation into Nadine Heredia and her brother over a series of deposits made into her bank account between 2006 and 2009, reported El Comercio. Heredia’s brother, Ilan Heredia, and other family members and friends of the Heredia family, made the deposits, which totaled around $215,000. Peru’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) said these people did not have the economic means to make such transfers.
The new investigation into Heredia is apparently the result of a leaked government report in which officials said they could not account for the $215,000 deposited into her bank accounts, reported the Wall Street Journal. This is the third time the case against the spouse of President Ollanta Humala has been opened since 2009, with the first two investigations being closed due to insufficient evidence.
Rojas, however, has argued that the investigation deserves to be reopened in light of the new evidence, and that prosecutors fumbled the first investigations (a 2014 Constitutional Court decision allows for cases to be reopened if they are deemed to have been investigated poorly). Rojas also outlined three reasons why he believed the case warranted further investigation, including payments of $67,000 Heredia received from her husband's former campaign administrator, Martin Belaunde Lossio -- who is now a fugitive.
Heredia’s lawyer, Anibal Quiroga, has moved to have the case dismissed, saying no new evidence has been presented. Heredia has also claimed the accusations against her are politically motivated and conceal a fear political opponents have of the Nationalist Party in the run-up to the July 2016 general elections. She said they were attempts to impede “new political forces, youths, moderns, with ideals of development, which can overcome the eternal candidates of the opposition, who over the years take turns in power.”
It has been speculated that Heredia -- who is head of the Nationalist Party but legally barred from running for president -- may run for Congress in the 2016 elections.
More recently, the Nationalist Party’s presumed presidential candidate Daniel Urresti -- a retired general and the Minister of the Interior under Humala until last month -- has been charged with the murder of journalist Hugo Bustios. Bustios was investigating human rights abuses when he was killed in November 1988.
Urresti has vigorously denied the charges and also claims that the accusations are politically motivated. According to the Wall Street Journal, political allies of former President Alan Garcia -- also seen as a potential candidate for 2016 -- have significant influence in the Public Ministry, as the Attorney General's Office is known in Peru.
InSight Crime Analysis
What stands out about this latest round of investigations into Heredia -- as well as those against Urresti -- is the timing. While the July 2016 elections are well over a year from now, it appears Peru's major political factions have already begun to position themselves for the campaign season.
Already, the Nationalist Party (PNP) -- and its political coalition "Peru Wins" -- has been clashing with the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) -- the party of Alan Garcia -- and the Popular Force (FP) -- led by Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori -- over discussions about electoral reform, as well as alleged spying by Humala on political opponents using Peru's National Directorate of Intelligence (DINI).
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As the wife of current president, Nadine Heredia has had considerable access to the power brokers and elites of Peruvian politics, allowing her to cultivate and maintain a significant political presence. Indeed, as president of the PNP, she wields influence on various stages and through various channels, and has been well received among ordinary Peruvians.
While ineligible to run for president in the upcoming 2016 elections since she is wife of a sitting president, it appears she is seriously considering running for Congress. And at only 38 years old, her personal political career is just beginning, meaning the long-term prospects of her becoming a presidential candidate are considered high (with presidential terms five years long, Heredia would have to wait until 2021 to run).
Yet due to the money laundering and spying allegations against Heredia and Humala, their approval ratings have both dropped, to 16 and 22 percent respectively. Furthermore, the allegations against Urresti -- who just recently joined the PNP on February 27 -- will prevent him from running for office in 2016, as party rules state that candidates “must not have pending criminal trials or have been convicted of a felony.”
Such timing raises speculation about pre-campaign political stratagems by the PNP's rivals, especially given alleged connections with Garcia and the ARPA with Peru's Public Ministry.
Nonetheless, these accusations should not necessarily be dismissed outright as political machinations. Corruption and money-laundering have been shown to have penetrated Peruvian state institutions, with political candidates -- including former presidents -- frequently tied to criminal behavior. Indeed, impunity for politicians in Peru is widespread, with both national and local politicians implicated in engaging in illicit activity routinely escaping without prosecution or conviction.
Additionally, that Martin Lossion -- Humala's former campaign chief wanted on charges of conspiracy and embezzlement -- has fled to Bolivia and remains on the run, creates suspicion about the extent of the involvement of Humala and Heredia in his alleged activities.
However -- while the merit of the accusations against Heredia and her culpability still remains unclear -- it seems doubtful the current case against her will result in a different outcome from the previous two investigations. Nor will it likely significantly derail her burgeoning political career.