Fugitive Peruvian judge captured in Spain

LIMA/MADRID (Reuters) - A fugitive Peruvian Supreme Court justice accused of leading a criminal group that infiltrated the country’s judicial system was captured in Madrid on Friday and held on remand by Spanish authorities.

Judge Cesar Hinostroza’s escape to Spain through normal border exit points has embarrassed Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra, who has made fighting graft the top priority in his seven-month-old government.

“He’s now with Spanish police, foreign affairs agents and Peru’s police attache,” Vizcarra said on local broadcaster RPP.

Hinostroza was taken to Spain’s High Court, where a judge opened extradition proceedings and detained him on remand, partly due to the risk he might try to flee.

He had been barred by court orders from leaving Peru while he was investigated for influence peddling and other crimes.

Hinostroza “was fully aware of the existence of a criminal process directed against him in Peru, and, therefore, of the seriousness of the accusations,” the High Court judge wrote in a document decreeing his detention, adding that the suspect’s daughter lived in Spain.

“It is therefore obvious that he is in Spain not by coincidence, merely to see his daughter: he deliberately avoided Peruvian law by leaving the country and refusing to return.”

Hinostroza has been at the center of a cronyism scandal since phone conversations recorded by police in a drug trafficking probe were leaked to media, allegedly revealing what prosecutors have described as a criminal network of judges who traded favors with politicians and businessmen.

Hinostroza has denied committing any crimes and could not be reached for comment on Friday.

A handful of protesters gathered outside the court in Madrid on Friday evening, holding placards and chanting “Hinostroza is corrupt”, calling him a thief and saying he should go to jail.

Hinostroza’s lawyer, Adrian Gonzalez Baena, left court after the hearing saying, “Everything is OK. I won’t say anything else.”

According to the Spanish court document, Hinostroza has asked for international asylum, saying he faces political persecution in Peru.

Vizcarra accepted the resignation of his interior minister on Wednesday after his government confirmed Hinostroza had left the country via Ecuador on Oct. 7.

Peru’s migrations agency said Hinostroza appeared to have been helped by a government official who has since been suspended and reported to prosecutors.

Reporting By Marco Aquino in Lima and Silvio Castellanos and Isla Binnie in Madrid,; Writing By Mitra Taj and Isla Binnie; Editing by Susan Thomas and Tom Brown