LATIN AMERICA

Bolivia captures Peruvian fugitive who escaped from house arrest

Ex-campaign advisor to Peru’s president is wanted for receiving illegal public contracts

Wanted Peruvian businessman Martín Belaunde Lossio after being captured in Bolivia on Thursday.
Wanted Peruvian businessman Martín Belaunde Lossio after being captured in Bolivia on Thursday.EFE

Bolivian police have captured a Peruvian businessman wanted on corruption charges in his native country who escaped from house arrest in La Paz over the weekend, authorities said Thursday.

Martín Belaunde Lossio, a former campaign advisor to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, was arrested at another property in Magdalena, a small town in Beni province, about 100 kilometers from the Brazilian border. He was taken back to La Paz early Friday morning.

Bolivian authorities found the wanted man in a town near the Brazilian border

Belaunde reportedly escaped on Sunday with the help of both the police officers guarding him and the family members who owned the home in a secluded La Paz neighborhood where he had been held under house arrest awaiting extradition since January.

The entire extradition case and subsequent escape have become delicate matters in both Peru and Bolivia.

Belaunde, who has said that he is being politically persecuted, is wanted for allegedly receiving fat public contracts he was not entitled to receive for companies in which he had interests. He fled Peru and illegally entered Bolivia late last year and was immediately arrested.

He was in the process of being turned over to Peru at the time of his escape after losing the final legal challenge contesting his extradition.

In La Paz, Belaunde’s escape has also been an embarrassment for the government of President Evo Morales.

Hugo Moldis, the president’s chief of staff, was replaced on Tuesday after he was blamed for not ensuring that the property where Belaunde was held was properly secured.

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President Morales said that he had “lost patience” with the police over the matter, prompting a shakeup within the force’s ranks.

The chief of police was also fired, and dozens of people have been arrested in connection with the escape, including Belaunde’s family members and lawyers, as well as officers who were guarding the property.

Investigators had suspected that Belaunde was headed to Brazil. But the former Humala advisor may have given himself away when he contacted a Peruvian television station this week to detail how he escaped from the home where he had been “kidnapped,” and claimed that Bolivia had hired hit men to kill him.

Belaunde also contacted a lawyer who specializes in helping Bolivians win asylum in Brazil.

In Peru, opposition leaders believe that the Humala administration had something to do in aiding in the escape while the Morales government may have tried turning a blind eye to the entire matter.

In some sectors, many also believe that Belaunde committed his alleged crimes under the orders of President Humala and his wife, first lady Nadine Heredia. Belaunde has been dubbed the government’s “cashier” by the local press.

The Humala administration has denied those charges, saying that Belaunde strictly acted on his own in seeking the government contracts for his companies.

Humala tried to dispel rumors that he was helping Belaunde by announcing a $200,000 reward for his capture

But the speculation was further fueled when the Bolivian foreign minister issued a statement after Belaunde’s escape in which he blamed Peru for dragging its feet in the extradition process. The Lima government answered that it had its hands tied as a result of the legal challenges the wanted fugitive had filed in Bolivia.

At the same time, Humala also tried to dispel rumors that he was helping Belaunde by announcing a $200,000 reward for his capture on Thursday.

Bolivia’s new chief of staff, Carlos Romero, said at a news conference that Belaunde would be sent back to Peru immediately.

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