Lawmakers Vote To Lift Ex-President’s Immunity From Prosecution in Scandal
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Lawmakers have voted to lift former President Alan Garcia’s immunity from prosecution, in an unprecedented step toward a possible trial of the former leader on charges he embezzled at least $500,000.
The House of Deputies voted 88-76 to lift Garcia’s immunity, after a raucous seven-hour debate punctuated by desk-banging, shouts and heckling - and ending with an uproar after the vote was announced.
″My conscience is clean and at peace,″ Garcia declared before the vote.
As a former president, Garcia is a senator for life, and as such, cannot be tried in court unless his congressional immunity is lifted.
If the Senate votes to lift Garcia’s immunity, the case would go to the attorney general, who would in turn hand the case over to the Supreme Court.
But observers said it is unlikely Garcia would be found guilty if brought to court and publicity could even help his political chances. Garcia filled the two criminal chambers of the Supreme Court with his own appointees before leaving office.
Leader of the left-leaning Aprista party, Garcia has vehemently proclaimed his innocence, calling the accusations a witch hunt by rightists who don’t want him running in the 1995 presidential race.
The 42-year-old politician has said repeatedly he will not run again, but Peruvians are convinced he will.
A decision on whether to lift Garcia’s immunity as former head of state must also be approved by the Senate. That chamber is expected to take up the issue in the next two weeks.
Garcia, who was president from 1985 to 1990, is the most prominent politician to be touched by a scandal surrounding not only his personal finances but additional allegations about investment of Peru’s international reserves in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
Independent Congressman Fernando Olivera, who heads a House committee investigating Garcia’s finances, accused him of having embezzled at least $500,000 in public funds.
In April, Olivera accused Garcia of stealing $50 million from the treasury and channeling the money through the BCCI to private banks in the United States and Europe.
″I laugh at all this,″ Garcia said recently. ″I have no fear
Garcia, who has branded the House investigators as ″delinquents with political ambitions,″ has presented documents he said refuted the commission’s findings. His defenders in the House debate also called the charges unfounded.
″This is a political injustice, to carry an ex-president of Peru to the courts for matters that everyone knows aren’t true,″ said Jorge del Castillo, a Garcia ally.
The congressional panel investigating Garcia’s finances has alleged that he controlled the Central Bank’s transactions with the scandal-plagued BCCI during his term.
Governments around the world closed the bank’s branches in their countries in July after an accounting firm said it found evidence of money laundering and massive fraud.
Robert Morganthau, U.S. district attorney in the New York City borough of Manhattan, said on July 29 that two former Central Bank officials received $3 million in bribes to bank $270 million of Peru’s international reserves with BCCI from 1986 to 1987.
Morgenthau said BCCI representatives consulted Garcia about the transactions, but he did not say whether Garcia knew of the bribes.
Garcia has denied any knownedge of bribe taking and said he does not believe that the officials, former Central Bank president Leonel Figueroa and general manager Hector Neyra, accepted the money.
The two former officers also have claimed innocence.
Peru banked up to a quarter of its reserves with the BCCI because the bank was the only one that would lend Peru money, Garcia said. He alienated foreign banks in 1986 when he stopped paying Peru’s foreign debt.