Peru Needs to Catch Fugitive Political Advisor, and Fast

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Martin Belaunde was once the manager of President Ollanta Humala’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2006, and the boyfriend of a top advisor to Peru’s First Lady. But he is now on the run, accused of associating with a corrupt network of political officials that embezzled public money and may have even ordered people killed.   

Belaunde fled Peru for Bolivia last December after he was charged with money laundering and conspiracy. Bolivia recently committed to extradite him back to Peru, but Belaude has since escaped the house in La Paz where he was being held under house arrest. 

Belaunde is accused of helping run a criminal network in the northern department of Ancash, a rich mining area on the coast. Headed by Ancash’s governor, Cesar Alvarez, this criminal syndicate is accused of robbing millions of dollars from phantom public works projects, and killing those — including a prominent local politician — who got in their way. Peruvian authorities say that Belaunde used a front company to mask the deviation of public funds into the hands of Alvarez and his allies. 

Belaunde has said he is the victim of political persecution, but Bolivia blocked his request for political asylum twice. After his escape — allegedly by crawling out a window — several of his family members said they suspected he had been kidnapped. His lawyer has denied having anything to do with the incident, while seven of Belaunde’s family members and five police custodians are under investigation, as Bolivian newspaper Los Tiempos reported

InSight Crime Analysis

The investigation into Ancash’s network of corruption has been ongoing for about a year, and Belaunde is among dozens of local officials — including police, judges, and journalists — who have been charged with conspiracy and other crimes. However, Belaunde stands out due to his past relationship with the president and the first lady. In addition to serving as a campaign advisor to Humala in 2006, he donated money to Humala’s political party that year, and once hired Humala’s wife as a consultant for one of the Belaunde family companies.

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Adding to his previous statements that the president’s office has had nothing to do with the corruption in Ancash, President Humala has said his government is doing “all that is humanely possible” to see Belaunde returned to Peru to stand trial. Belaunde’s status isn’t necesarily exceptional — according to El Comercio, at least 20 of those wanted in the Ancash investigation remain fugitives from the law. 

The Humala government arguably has a particular strong interest in seeing Belaunde found and returned promptly to Peru to stand trial, even if it is only for the sake of helping improve the state’s image when it comes to fighting corruption. It has already been established that the Ancash criminal syndicate tainted officials at a national level as well — Peru’s attorney general was recently booted out of office for hindering investigations into the Ancash affair, while two Ancash congressmen were also suspended for obstructing justice. 

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Belaunde should be an opportunity for the Peruvian government to show that they can bring corruption probes to an efficient and just conclusion, regardless of a suspect’s ties to the country’s highest political elites. But Peru may have already missed its chance to set that kind of precendent with Belaunde’s case, by not taking the steps necesarry to ensure that he couldn’t escape the country in the first place. This has prompted speculation that by bumbling the case, the government is trying to protect him. If he is not found, Belaunde’s most recent disappearance may only reinforce the sense that he has powerful allies looking out for him.

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