LIMA, Peru – Keiko Fujimori, former congresswoman and 2016 presidential candidate of her right-wing Popular Force (FP) she still leads, is the subject of a preliminary investigation opened by the Attorney General into claims that she and party colleagues laundered some $15 million.
Last year, Fujimori lost the presidential election in the second round run-off vote against Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the candidate of the center-right Peruvians for Change (PPK), by a razor-thin margin.
After nearly five days of scrutinization, the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) announced that Kuczynski had won 50.12 percent of the vote to Fujimori’s 49.88 percent. In bulk numbers, 8,589,529 votes were placed for Kuczynski while 8,547,845 were for Fujimori, meaning that the margin of victory was just an incredible 0.24 percent with a low voter turnout of 54 percent.
Ollanta Humala of the center-left Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP), who had served as president since July of 2011 to 2016, was legally barred from running again as the Peruvian Constitution allows for a single five-year term with no immediate re-election. In the 2011 run-off vote, Fujimori was defeated for the first time in an election by Humala by a tally of 51.4 percent to 48.5 percent.
Humala’s approval ratings steadily fell over the years despite the fact that conditions were generally improved, especially for the working and middle classes.
What tarnished his reputation was a series of scandals that led to allegations of nepotism involving his brother Alexis Humala, accusations of ‘betrayal’ from both the left and right wing sectors of politics and society and the invasive involvement and constant presence of his wife, Nadine Heredia, in domestic and international politics.
More scandals followed: allegations of illegal spending on political advertising by party colleagues and political allies (as part of a scandal that also involved political opponents), the passing of a controversial worker and mining law and increasing public sentiments of insecurity.
At the moment, both Humala and Heredia are being investigated by a federal prosecutor on accusations of corruption, including misuse of public funds and money laundering. They have been joined in recent weeks by other former leaders including Alan García (1985-1990, 2006-2011) and Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), with the latter hiding in the United States and sought by Interpol.
Given all the accusations and the Peruvian public’s growing anger with tainted politicians, Kuczynski and Fujimori both ran on a platform of “honesty” and “anti-corruption.”
Kuczynski was victorious in the election but Fujimori continued to build on the popularity she grew for herself and her party between the 2011 and 2016 elections.
Although she has not held political office since 2011 (having stepped down from her congressional seat in anticipation for that year’s election and running again in 2016), Fujimori is still the leader of the Popular Force (FP). The party, firmly in opposition to Kuczynski, is the single largest power in Peruvian politics. The FP holds 72 of the 130 seats in the unicameral Congress.
As such, Fujimori has maintained quite a high profile and has remained in the public eye. That public eye has now set its sights on Fujimori’s activities via Sara Vidal, a public prosecutor with the Attorney General’s office.
Vidal said that she has been tracing the activities of the FP and will now oversee an investigation period of eight months. Vidal is building a case based on the allegations that Fujimori and the party’s Secretary General, Joaquín Ramírez, have overseen the laundering of some $15 million.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the United States first turned the eyes of the public toward Fujimori’s alleged illegal activities when an agency report was leaked by a newspaper. The DEA report outlined that the agency was investigating Ramírez, then a congressman (in addition to his posts as party head and treasurer), for alleged money laundering and links to drug trafficking groups.
The wealthy businessman-turned-politician, who was eyed by Peruvian authorities previously for suspicious enrichment and was the FP’s largest financier, allegedly accepted the $15 million gained by illegal means and then laundered the money through a chain of gas stations that he owns.
That money, once laundered, was given back to Fujimori by Ramírez and was used illegally for her ultimately fruitless 2011 campaign. In what seems like a kickback for his efforts, Ramírez received two properties from an unknown individual worth some $2.5 million dollars, properties which Fujimori has subsequently used free of charge as a part-time residency and fundraising headquarters.
The investigation, which will cite public institutions to provide information on Fujimori and Ramírez including their incomes, assets and other public records, is also expected to request that Fujimori come to court and testify.
For her part, Fujimori said that the accusations are baseless and are politically motivated, “an attempt at reviving the anti-Fujimorism sentiments.” She even went on to say, possibly missing the irony, that the efforts against her will not stop her and her party’s “fight against corruption.”
Despite her claims of innocence, her family’s history will only play a negative role.
Her father is Alberto Fujimori, a Lima native born to Japanese immigrant parents who served as president from 1990 to 2000 on behalf of the right-wing Change 90-New Majority party.
Fujimori’s administration has been labeled by many as a dictatorship as he carried out an ‘autocoup’ of the nation’s parliament (and suspended the constitution) and one marked by rampant corruption. He is believed to have pocketed well over half a billion dollars through corrupt means during his decade in power. His brutality was also notorious as he has been accused (and convicted) of human rights abuses that include kidnapping, torture and mass murder.
In 2009, he was given a 25-year prison sentence (plus another seven-and-a-half-year sentence later), which was effectively a life sentence given his advanced age, for those same human rights abuses as well as a litany of various corruption and illegal enrichment charges.
In January of 2015, another eight-year-term was added to his sentence after he was convicted and sentenced in the case of the “Chicha Press,” the collective term for a group of tabloids employed by Fujimori. He was found guilty of embezzling nearly $45 million of public money, specifically from the military, during his administration in order to buy influence and media support from the tabloids. He is set to face two new, separate cases for murder and embezzlement this year.
Kuczynski took advantage of his opponent’s past during a rally in a Lima suburb during the electoral campaign last year when he said that “a child of a thief is probably a thief as well” because “the apple does not fall far from the tree.”
Indeed, her sister Sachi and her brothers Hiro and Kenji (and now Keiko herself) have all been or are currently being investigated on a plethora of corruption and embezzlement charges. Keiko’s siblings could face a separate, fresh investigation soon into the illegal enrichment and money laundering operated through their customs company Limasa. In 2013, over 100 kilograms of cocaine were found in one of Limasa’s company warehouses.
Despite the controversies, Fujimori still maintained a high level of popularity among a large group of people, drawing on the more populist aspects of her father’s administration: the defeat of the violent, maoist rebel group Shining Path (at the expense of the human rights abuses against suspects and innocent Peruvians all across the country in the process), his staunch pro-market stance and socially conservative policies.