LIMA, June 25 A federal judge in Lima has
ordered a regional president detained for 14 months while
prosecutors prepare corruption charges against the official, who
is the main opponent of Newmont Mining's $5 billion
stalled Conga gold project.
Judge Mercedes Caballero ruled at a hearing on Wednesday
that Gregorio Santos, president of the mineral-rich Cajamarca
region in northern Peru, must be held before being tried because
he might flee the country or disrupt the corruption inquiry now
Santos' arrest comes just months before he planned to seek a
second four-year term as regional president, effectively
clearing the electoral path for candidates who might favor the
Judge Caballero said Santos would have to remain in custody
for 14 months while the prosecution prepares its case, less than
the 18 months requested. If Santos is tried and found innocent
before then, he could be released.
Santos, a member of the communist party Patria Roja and a
former peasant patrol leader, led dozens of protests against
Conga that forced U.S.-based Newmont to suspend construction on
its Conga gold project in 2011.
Prosecutor Walter Delgado said Santos received bribes from
companies in exchange for awarding 11 local public work
Santos has denied wrongdoing and said his appearance at the
public hearing was an indication he had no intention of fleeing.
"I am not running away," Santos told the judge. "I'm here at
your disposal and the disposal of justice."
Santos has called the current inquiry and others before it
political persecution aimed at removing him from power so the
Conga project can go forward.
Santos' lawyer will file an appeal, said Olmedo Auris, a
political leader close to Santos.
After Santos was escorted away by police, a small group of
supporters protested the judge's decision outside the
Santos is the third regional president in Peru to be
detained in recent months as the attorney general's office aims
to crack down on corruption of provincial officials.
The Conga project would offset dwindling gold deposits at
Newmont's nearby Yanacocha mine, which is nearing the end of its
life. Opponents say Conga would pollute or deplete water sources
used by Andean peasants and have rejected the company's plans to
build reservoirs for community use.
Newmont controls 51.35 percent of Conga, and Peruvian mining
company Buenaventura holds 43.65 percent.
(Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Ken Wills)