Ex-Peruvian prime minister detained in Odebrecht case

In this handout photo provided by Peru's Palace of Justice Press Office, former Prime Minister Cesar Villanueva is escorted by police to a courtroom, at the Palace of Justice in Lima, Peru, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019. Villanueva was placed under preventive detention while being investigated for influence peddling in a bribery case linked to the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, the Public Ministry said Wednesday. (Francisco Medina/Peru's Palace of Justice press office via AP)
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Former Peruvian Prime Minister César Villanueva was arrested preventatively while being investigated for alleged influence peddling in a bribery case linked to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, the Public Ministry said Wednesday.

Authorities also detained businessman José María Santisteban Zurita, North Lima prosecutor Alberto Orlando Rossel Alvarado and provincial deputy prosecutor Ronald Nicolás Chafloque Chávez.

“All of them are being investigated for the crime of influence peddling and illegal sponsorship,” prosecutor Jesús Fernández said in a tweet.

Villanueva was head of the Council of Ministers, or prime minister, in the government of President Martín Vizcarra from April 2018 to March 2019, when he resigned as Vizcarra shuffled his Cabinet amid heavy criticism for a trip he took to Portugal and Spain, where he attended an art fair dedicated to Peru, while heavy rains caused avalanches that destroyed houses in dozens of villages in Peru.

Peru is in the midst of a reckoning over entrenched, widespread corruption that has decimated public confidence in elected officials. Nearly every former living president is under investigation in connection with the Odebrecht probe – with the exception of former President Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for human rights abuses, corruption and the sanctioning of death squads.

Former President Alan García died in April after shooting himself in the head as officers came to detain him in relation to the Odebrecht probe. Ex-President Alejandro Toledo is being held in the United States while his extradition is sought by Peru. Former President Ollanta Humala, who was imprisoned for nine months, was released in April 2018, although he is still under investigation. And former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is under house arrest, accused of lying about his ties to Odebrecht.

In 2016 Odebrecht acknowledged it paid bribes to obtain juicy contracts across Latin America.q