Corruption probe into Peru's president reopened

LIMA (Reuters) - The office of Peru’s attorney general has reopened a corruption inquiry into whether President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski helped a Brazilian company win public work contracts while he was prime minister a decade ago, legal documents showed on Tuesday.

Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski holds a news conference at the conclusion of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit in Lima, Peru November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Paco Chuquiure

The anti-corruption unit in the attorney general’s office ordered prosecutors to broaden a preliminary investigation into Kuczynski, ex-president Alejandro Toledo, and engineering conglomerate Odebrecht after concluding it had been prematurely closed in September, according to a decision signed by a leading prosecutor and seen by Reuters.

Kuczynski is currently facing the worst political crisis so far in his five-month old government as the opposition-controlled Congress prepares to oust his education minister.

The graft inquiry was first opened early this year at the request of an attorney who accuses Kuczynski and Toledo of collusion for passing a law in 2006 that the attorney said changed bidding rules so that a consortium led by Brazil’s Odebrecht SA could compete for infrastructure contracts worth more than $500 million.

Graft inquiries involving high-profile politicians are common in Peru and usually end with no charges pressed.

Kuczynski’s office declined to comment.

Toledo’s spokesman said Toledo was traveling and unavailable for comment.

Odebrecht, at the center of the biggest-ever corruption scandal in neighboring Brazil, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The prosecutors who closed the investigation in September said the accusation of wrongdoing was based on speculation, according to the documents dated Nov 30.

But the anti-corruption unit said the prosecutors did not dig deep enough and ordered them to obtain the testimonies of Toledo, representatives of Odebrecht, and others.

Kuczynski, a 78-year-old technocrat who has worked on Wall Street and founded a non-profit to deliver clean water to poor Peruvians, provided his testimony to prosecutors earlier this year and denied wrongdoing, according to local media.

Kuczynski has vowed to double down on his efforts to uproot widespread graft in Peru after firing his health advisor in September for appearing to plot corrupt acts in leaked audio tapes.

Kuczynski was elected in June with one of the weakest mandates of any recent president, beating his right-wing populist rival Keiko Fujimori by less than a quarter percentage point.

His approval rating rose to 63 percent in September before slipping to 48 percent in the latest Ipsos poll published on Sunday.

Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Alistair Bell