After a week-long break for the Independence Day holidays, hearings have resumed in the trial on the presidential pardons granted to over 400 drug traffickers during Alan Garcia’s 2006-2011 administration.
The main defendant is Facundo Chinguel, who was president of the Presidential Pardons Commission in the Ministry of Justice and oversaw the review and proposal of pardons and commutations between 2008 and 2011. Another 13 defendants served on the commission or in the prison or Justice system.
Chinguel is accused of heading a criminal organization that offered pardons or reduced sentences in exchange for money, and is charged specifically in 10 cases of the release of major drug traffickers.
Over 50 witnesses will be called during the trial, which began a week ago at the courtrooms in the Ancon I penitentiary in North Lima, including three former ministers of Justice, including Aurelio Pastor who was sentenced in May this year, in an unrelated case, to serve four years for influence peddling.
Former President Alan Garcia, called to testify in the earlier investigations that opened in 2013, has denied any knowledge of the bribes and operations of Chinguel’s team, but documents listing the proposed reduced sentences include Garcia’s own comments or signature against the names of several traffickers.
Eight Africans, from Zambia and Nigeria, were included in the list of commutations — they were serving sentences of up to 25 years. According to one witness, three African prisoners who had tried to escape several times since their arrest around 2002 —once in a failed attempt by helicopter— paid a total of $70,000 to get their sentences reduced.
According to the State Prosecution Office for Corruption, close to $10 million exchanged hands for the pardons and commutations.
Investigations into the pardons began in 2013 following an initial report by the Congressional commission looking into allegations of corruption during President Garcia’s second term in office. Dubbed the “megacommission”, the lawmakers led by congressman Sergio Tejada followed at least 11 different cases of corruption, of which the presidential pardons was most quickly and easily verified.
The pardons commission had been assigned ostensibly to reduce the overcrowding at Peru’s main prisons, especially in Lima. Witnesses, including prisoners who have received reduced sentences, told investigators that anyone who could pay $10,000 would be considered. In three years, the commission granted a total of 5,500 pardons or reduced sentences — around 4,000 were given to “mules”, people who were arrested travelling with packets of drugs, but at least another 400 included whole families or gangs of drug traffickers, some of whom later were arrested again on new charges of drug trafficking.
The prosecution is requesting sentences of between three and 17 years for the different defendants, and a total of 100 million soles for civil damages
Links to Gerald Oropeza
In April this year, long-time business connections were discovered between Facundo Chinguel and Gerald Oropeza, a fugitive drug trafficker who has operated under the radar despite owning at least one Porsche and recently imported a Ferrari Berlinetta from Italy. Both men were card-carrying members of the Apra party, and Oropeza’s family openly supported Chinguel’s political career.
“That would clarify the money route in ‘narco-pardons’,” said Tejada, who said that besides proof that contributions were paid to the Apra party funds, it would explain how Chinguel had the money to start a company and buy into property interests linked to the Oropeza family.