A judge in Lima on Tuesday blocked a money-laundering investigation into Peru’s first lady, Nadine Heredia, that stems from large sums of cash she may have received from Venezuelan firms and companies linked to a now-jailed businessman who was recently captured in Bolivia.
The order from Lima Criminal Court Judge María Niño Palomino was handed down after Heredia filed an appeal to stop the inquiry.
In 2009, public prosecutors in Peru opened an investigation concerning $220,525 in transfers that had taken place since 2005. The transfers were made by Venezuelan companies and firms belonging to former presidential advisor Martín Belaunde Lossio, who was recently extradited from Bolivia after fleeing Peruvian justice.
Prosecutors were investigating $220,525 in transfers that had taken place since 2005
In her order, Palomino said investigators could only focus their inquiry from 2010 onward. The case was recently reopened after having been shelved in 2009.
Prosecutor Ricardo Rojas argued that the investigation was dropped before money-laundering experts could verify whether the transfers came from the same companies that President Ollanta Humala’s wife had declared in her financial statements.
At the same time, the Venezuelan government of then-President Hugo Chávez never responded to the accusations, Rojas said.
The controversy has coincided with the recapture of Belaunde in Bolivia after he escaped from house arrest in La Paz late last month. The Peruvian businessman, who served as a campaign advisor to Humala, fled his country before authorities could arrest him on public corruption charges.
Following his capture, he was immediately extradited to Peru and is awaiting trial at a maximum security prison.
Last month, the Peruvian press published financial records that allegedly demonstrated that in 2005 around $86,000 in transfers were made to accounts belonging to Heredia’s mother and one of her best friends. The money came from another Venezuelan firm, Kaysamak, which was linked to Chávez’s supporters.
The mother and friend both made generous deposits in Heredia’s own account, according to press allegations.
In 2006, Heredia, along with her husband Ollanta Humala, founded the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP) before he was swept into office in 2011. But at the time she did not include the contributions from Kaysamak in the party’s accounting books.
Early this month, the first lady explained on her Facebook account why the money was not listed.
“Those amounts did exist, but it is necessary to explain that deposits were made in 2005 when we weren’t even a political party. They were personal donations that went to the formation of a political project that we were working on with Ollanta,” she said.
Heredia has hired two well-known criminal lawyers to defend her. One of them, Eduardo Roy Gates, is a former legal advisor to the president and an expert in money-laundering investigations.
Heredia has also been at the center of another scandal regarding her personal expenses. On May 31, a television station reported that the first lady had spent $38,000 on clothes, jewelry and decorative items during official trips over an 18-month period.
The first lady reportedly spent $38,000 on clothes and jewelry in 18 months
The payments were made on a credit card whose holder is her best friend Rocio Calderón, who served as a witness at her wedding and is now a top diplomatic official in the Humala government.
The opposition American Popular Revolutionary Alliance party (APRA) has questioned where Heredia got the money because she does not hold a job and the first lady’s position as an advisor to the president – according to her husband – is without remuneration.
Roy, her lawyer, said in a television interview that Heredia earns $1,900 a month as president of the PNP.
But after searching the records of the Sunat tax agency, whose director is a cousin of the first lady, reporters in Lima found that the PNP has never registered any paid employees at the entity.
Many legal analysts believe that there is insufficient evidence to prove that the first lady was involved in money-laundering activities. However, some criminal lawyers said she could be investigated for other crimes, such as tax evasion, amassing personal wealth without justification, and contraband.