LIMA – Peruvian lawmakers were meeting on Thursday to weigh the impeachment of President Martin Vizcarra, who took office in March 2018 after his predecessor resigned to avoid being impeached.
While Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was forced out on suspicion he received some of the $30 million in bribes Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht paid to officials to obtain lucrative public works contracts, Vizcarra is in trouble over what by Peruvian standards would be a minor scandal.
A television news program reported in June that Richard Cisneros, a flamboyant musical artist singer and would-be celebrity better known as Richard Swing, received up to $50,000 from the Culture Ministry for a number of speeches on topics such as “Transformative Knowledge Leadership.”
The revelations led to the resignation of the-then culture minister and, later, to the departure of Vizcarra’s long-time assistant Karen Roca.
But the president insisted he had no involvement in the contracts awarded to Swing.
The situation took a dramatic turn this week with the release of three audio recordings in which someone presumed to be Vizcarra talks about the Swing case.
“We are all involved in this investigation and the strategy is for all of us to come out of it together,” Vizcarra tells advisers in one clip.
When the scandal broke, Vizcarra said that he first met Swing in 2016 when the singer performed at campaign rallies for Kuczynski and his running mate.
Vizcarra also said that while Swing made two visits to the presidential palace after he succeeded Kuczynski, he was received by an assistant and a secretary on both occasions.
On the recordings, however, Vizcarra and his aides mention up to six visits to the palace by Swing.
Another clip is of a conversation where Roca blasts the president for making her the scapegoat for the scandal and forcing her to step down.
The recordings also include an exchange between Roca and the singer.
“He wants only to save himself,” Roca tells Swing, referring to Vizcarra.
The singer tells Roca that she erased all of his electronic correspondence with Vizcarra going back to the now-president’s tenure as Peruvian ambassador to Canada.
The incriminating audio was released by Vizcarra’s most implacable political foe, lawmaker Edgar Alarcon, who in 2017 – as Peru’s controller general – accused the future president of irregularities in connection with the awarding of the contract to build a new airport in Cuzco during his time as transportation minister.
Declining to say how he obtained the recordings, Alarcon said that he has 2˝ hours of audio related to the Swing case.
The fees paid to Swing came in the form of nine separate contracts awarded between 2018-2020, all of which were below the threshold at which competitive bids are required.
None of the nine parties with seats in the Peruvian Congress support Vizcarra, but it remains to be seen whether the widely disparate factions can muster a majority to impeach the president.
The political crisis comes as Peru struggles to contain COVID-19, which has claimed more than 30,000 lives in the Andean nation.
Peru is fifth in the world in the number of cases, with upwards of 700,000, and has the highest death rate from coronavirus: 92 fatalities per every 100,000 inhabitants.