Peru's Vizcarra denies new corruption allegations, prosecutors to investigate

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra denied allegations on Monday that he had received a payout from a construction company that won a public works contract when he was a regional governor, as prosecutors said they would open a preliminary investigation.

Vizcarra, who was sworn in as president in 2018, received bribes worth a total 1.3 million soles ($363,000) between 2014 and 2016, according to testimony that forms part of a broader investigation underway by government prosecutors into construction firms.

That testimony was published by several local media outlets on Sunday.

Prosecutor Germán Juárez - a member of a team that investigates bribes from Peruvian and foreign construction companies - said he would investigate Vizcarra for “the alleged crimes of bribery and collusion,” according to a letter he wrote to his superiors that was also published in local media and viewed by Reuters.

Reuters contacted the prosecutor’s office but officials there declined to comment on the case.

Vizcarra has denied he received the payments, though he did confirm that the construction firm had received a government contract while he was governor. He nonetheless called the allegations against him tantamount to an effort to overthrow the government in one televised interview late on Sunday.

“In each one of the acts I have shown honesty and frankness,” Vizcarra said on Monday, in another interview with local radio station Santa Rosa.

The complaint states that Vizcarra received the payout money in six parts between 2014 and 2016, after the company won the contract in 2013. The company paid him the last $60,000 of those funds when he was the country’s Minister of Transportation and Communications, the complaint alleges.

Earlier this month, local media reported a separate allegation that Vizcarra had been accused during a corruption probe of receiving a payment from a company that had also received a public works contract when he was governor of the southern Peruvian region of Moquegua, accusations he has denied.

The prosecutor would be required to wait until Vizcarra finishes his term in July next year to file charges, if warranted. According to Peru’s constitution, a sitting president can only be charged for treason or for preventing elections.

Last month, Peru’s Congress voted against removing Vizcarra in an impeachment trial, temporarily quelling political tensions in a recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The opposition tried to impeach him over alleged links to irregular government contracts with a little-known singer. Vizcarra claimed the trial was part of a plot against him by Congress.

Reporting by Marco Aquino in Lima; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Matthew Lewis