Gregorio Santos, president of the Cajamarca region and the most prominent leader in the protests against the Conga gold mine project, was detained June 25 and charged with allegedly committing the crimes of unlawful association, bribery and collusion.
After a five-hour hearing, Justice Mercedes Caballero ordered that Santos be detained for 14 months, pending his trial. Caballero said that the charges presented by the state attorney were “grave and well-founded” and thus Santos posed a flight risk.
Among the allegations are links to Cajamarca businessman Wilson Vallejos, a friend of the regional president who won bids for regional works for a total of S/. 155 million ($ 56mn) and who, according to taped phone conversations, made at least 20 monetary contributions to Santos. In January 2012, sums of S/.45,000 and S/.30,000 were paid on the same day.
Santos argues that the charges are politically motivated, and that contributions were made without his knowledge, while he was leading the protests in the field against Newmont and Buenaventura’s huge gold mining project in Cajamarca. The Conga protests, basically against the draining of three lakes, led Santos to national prominence and to the first major cabinet shift in President Humala’s first six months in government, leading to a standoff on the project that has still to be resolved.
Gregorio Santos is the third regional president to be arrested on charges of corruption. Earlier this month, Ancash regional president Cesar Alvarez was charged with bribery, extortion and even murder, while Pasco president Klever Melendez was also arrested for misusing funds. There is also a warrant for the arrest of the president of north coast region of Tumbes, Gerardo Viñas, who remains a fugitive, allegedly just over the border in Ecuador.