A recording implicating Peru's presidential front-runner Keiko Fujimori in a massive money laundering operation could be fact or fiction, but the case nevertheless paints a picture of the chronic levels of corruption at the highest echelons of national politics.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has confirmed that it is investigating a case related to a purported secret recording in which a top politician allegedly claims that he laundered money for leading presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, according to an investigation by the TV channel Univision and the TV program Cuarto Poder. Update: Following the release of the joint investigation, the DEA clarified that it is not directly investigating Fujimori.
Pilot Jesús F. Vásquez has said that congressman and secretary general of the People's Force (Fuerza Popular) party Joaquín Ramírez Gamarra claimed that he had laundered US$15 million for Fujimori during Peru's 2011 presidential election. Fujimori, the president of Fuerza Popular, lost in 2011 to current President Ollanta Humala, but she is favored to win this year's race.
According to Vásquez -- who claims he was working undercover for the DEA at the time -- during their conversation Ramírez said to him:
"Did you know that 'la china' [Keiko Fujimori] gave me US$15 million in the  campaign to launder them … and I laundered them through a fuel station chain," the pilot told Univision.
Vásquez then prompted Ramírez to confirm the allegation.
"So then I say to him, to verify it … '"La china" Keiko Fujimori gave you US$15 million for you to launder?' 'Yes,' he said. 'She gave them to me.' All of this was recorded."
Univision's news piece on the investigation, March 15
After Univision contacted the DEA regarding the report, the drug agency's spokeswoman Anne Judith Lambert confirmed on camera that the investigation in question not only existed but was ongoing. Lambert declined to provide further details. (See video above)
Ramírez is currently being investigated in Peru for money laundering in a case that includes various gas stations in his name, according to Univision. He is also reportedly involved in Fujimori's current campaign.
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Fujimori replied to the allegations by phone on the show Cuarto Poder, claiming that they were part of a dirty war by her rival for the presidency Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, of the Peruvians For Change (Peruanos Por el Kambio - PPK) party.
"I would like to categorically deny what has been said about me … it is completely false," she said. "I have never given money to Mr. Joaquin Ramírez. I have never managed money in the campaign."
Fujimori added that it was a shame that her political opponent would take the campaign to such a level, to which one TV host interjected that Kuczynski was not responsible for the claims. Kuczynski has in turn denied Fujimori's accusations against him.
Ramírez also rejected Vásquez's story, saying that the pilot had tried to do business with him "three years ago" regarding the purchase of an airline, and that he will press charges.
Fujimori led the first round of elections in April 2016 with nearly 40 percent of the vote, and is set to go head to head with runner-up Kuczynski in a June 5 runoff.
Vásquez -- who says he spoke to the press "of his own accord" -- has delivered a letter to the DEA requesting that the recordings be released.
InSight Crime Analysis
High-level corruption is a critical issue in Peruvian politics, and this is not the first time that Keiko Fujimori -- the daughter of a convicted former president -- has come under fire for alleged criminal activities.
The presidential front-runner was suspected of using drug money during her previous run for the presidency, in a campaign riddled with allegations of criminal ties across the board. In addition, Fujimori was investigated in 2010 to determine whether or not state money stolen by her father was used to finance her studies in the United States -- a case that was later shelved.
Allegations have also arisen accusing Fuerza Popular party members of ties to drug trafficking.
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Fujimori's father and former President Alberto Fujimori (1990 - 2000) is currently serving time behind bars for crimes against humanity and for using public funds to buy off sensationalist newspapers. The former president has additionally been embroiled in drug trafficking allegations.
Numerous other former heads of state have faced criminal charges, and even current president Ollanta Humala has had his reputation sullied by revelations of corruption within his inner circle.
The growing influence of drug money in Peruvian politics over the past few years is such that politicians have long warned that the country risks becoming a "narco-state."
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the origins of the alleged $15 million in dirty money, if it exists, are unclear.