Scandal Over Garcia’s Presidential Pardons Deepens

Huaman, Manuel, ApraA scandal over presidential pardons during President Alan Garcia’s administration took on a new twist on Wednesday, when daily El Comercio revealed that a member of the presidential pardons committee was a convicted drug trafficker.

According to a front page story by the newspaper, Manuel Huaman, a 53-year-old lawyer, worked for the pardons committee when it was led by Miguel Facundo Chinguel from 2008 to 2010. Garcia’s second term in office was from 2006 to 2011.

Huaman was arrested in 1999 and sentenced in 2000 to 8 years in prison for his role in trafficking tons of cocaine to Mexico in the 1990s. Huaman reportedly worked with the Los Norteños gang, led by Peruvians and working closely in Mexico, to produce cocaine in Peru and traffic it to other countries.

Drug kingpins Jorge Lopez Paredes, the head of Los Norteños, and Fernando Zevallos, who laundered drug money through his now closed airline Aero Continente, were also convicted in the Los Norteños case.

Huaman was released from prison early, in 2004. According to anti-drug officials cited by El Comercio, Huaman showed up in prison again in 2009, but this time as part of the committee that granted pardons to inmates. Huaman is a card-carrying member of former President Garcia’s Apra party, according to the newspaper.

The revelation follows news leaked earlier this month that Garcia granted pardons to some 5,500 prisoners during his second term in office. Some 400 of those inmates were convicted drug traffickers. Officials said that in some cases, entire gangs were released from prison.

A testimony from a convicted drug trafficker turned informant said that pardons were given in exchange for payments. The informant said that inmates could pay $10,000 per year that they wanted reduced from their sentence. Some prisoners looked to pay $150,000 to have 15 years taken off their sentence, according to reports citing the informant. Officials say the claim needs to be further investigated.

Attorney General José Pelaez said earlier this week that an investigation will be opened on the pardons and the commission.

Prime Minister Juan Jimenez called the pardons a “national scandal” and said they were in large part to blame for insecurity in the Andean country. The issue of crime has been put on the national agenda following increase violence in thefts and assaults in Lima and assassinations of a handful of municipal and regional government officials outside the Peruvian capital.

Peru is the world’s top producer of cocaine, with Colombia. Profits from the illicit drug trade are known to been a major source of corruption in the Andean nation.

Garcia has denied any wrongdoing in the pardons, saying that they were given to low-level “drug mules” and not to drug bosses, and that the commission’s intention was to lower the overcrowded prison population. He has claimed that the issue is part of an attempt to discredit him in the event that he runs for president again in 2016, and that the attempt specifically comes from the President and his advisors, who may want First Lady Nadine Heredia to run for office in 2016.

Apra’s secretary general, Omar Quesada, said in a radio interview that the former justice ministers during Garcia’s term will have to answer for the appointment of the convicted drug trafficker to the pardons committee. He denied that Apra is full of “rascals.”

“Those who appoint civil servants are the [cabinet] ministers and the ministers in this case are responsible,” Quesada told Ideeleradio.

Members of President Humala’s Gana Peru party are calling for an investigation into the pardons. “This has to be investigated to the last consequences, because it is very grave and contradicts what former President Alan Garcia has been saying,” said Congressman Fredy Otarola.

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