Peruvian President Pedro Castillo is the subject of six criminal probes over alleged graft and plagiarism

Lima (AFP) - Peruvian prosecutors have opened a sixth criminal investigation into President Pedro Castillo for alleged corruption involving government tenders, officials said Thursday.

The announcement came after police this week raided the presidential palace in Lima, where Castillo resides, as well as his private home in the country’s rural north in search of his sister-in-law, who on Wednesday gave herself up in a related corruption investigation.

Castillo is already the subject of five other criminal probes for graft and for allegedly plagiarizing his university thesis, and has survived two impeachment attempts since taking office in July last year.

Peru’s public prosecutor has decided to open a preliminary investigation into Castillo and his former Housing Minister Geiner Alvarado “for an alleged crime… in the form of criminal organization,” the prosecutor’s office said on Twitter.

The investigation, it added, targets contracts awarded in the provinces of Chota-Cajamarca, where Castillo is originally from, and Cajatambo-Lima, north of the capital.

Alvarado was Castillo’s housing minister at the time, but has since moved to the transport portfolio.

The president also took to Twitter, denouncing a “media show” he said was intended to paint his family as corrupt.

“More than a year has passed and there is no evidence, only assumptions. Continue with your media agenda, we will continue working for Peru,” he said.

- Covid positive -

The arrests this week of Castillo’s sister-in-law Yenifer Paredes, businessmen brothers Hugo and Anggi Espino, and mayor Jose Nenil Medina of Anguia in Cajamarca, are related to the same investigation.

The four stand accused of participating in a network of corruption and money laundering that prosecutors allege was headed by the Peruvian president.

Police searched Castillo's private home in the country's rural north in search of his corruption-accused sister-in-law

Paredes appeared before a judge on Thursday, where her lawyers asked for her 10-day preliminary detention to be replaced with a “less burdensome” measure, given that she had tested positive for Covid-19.

The request was denied, with the judge ruling she was receiving appropriate care in isolation from others.

Castillo, serving a five-year term that ends in 2026, cannot be tried while in office.

Last week, a team of investigators visited Anguia and Cajatambo to collect information on public works contracts awarded to the Espino brothers, who are alleged to have had links with Castillo’s sister-in-law.

- Accusations denied -

Castillo, a 52-year-old rural school teacher and trade unionist, unexpectedly took power from Peru’s traditional political elite in elections last year.

He has come under non-stop fire from right-wing political rivals seeking his impeachment, so far without success.

The president also faces investigations on claims including influence peddling in a fuel purchase deal, and obstruction of justice in firing Interior Minister Mariano Gonzalez, who had authorized the arrest of Castillo allies.

There are also allegations of meddling in military promotions.

He denies all the accusations.

Opinion polls show that three-quarters of Peruvians disapprove of Castillo’s management of the country, which has seen three prime ministers and seven interior ministers come and go in just over a year.

Paredes, 26, lives with Castillo and his wife, whom she reportedly views as “parents.”

She is the fourth person in the presidential entourage to be investigated for alleged corruption.

The others include a nephew who served as an adviser, a former transport minister – both fugitives from justice – and Castillo’s former presidential secretary.

Peru is no stranger to instability: it had three different presidents in five days in 2020, and five presidents and three legislatures since 2016.

But six open investigations into a sitting president is unprecedented.