Peru Is Running Out of Space to Keep its Jailed Ex-Presidents

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(Bloomberg) -- A Peruvian prison built specifically to host disgraced former presidents will soon run out of space if former leader Alejandro Toledo is extradited from the US as expected.

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The Barbadillo jail on the outskirts of Lima is currently occupied by former president Alberto Fujimori, held there since 2007 over death squad killings and corruption, and Pedro Castillo, who attempted a coup in December. Adding a third presidential inmate would exceed the two-person capacity stated in documents published by prison authority INPE.

The politically-volatile Andean nation imprisons more of its leaders than almost anywhere else in the world. Every one of the six Peruvian presidents elected since 1990 is either in jail, has been in jail, or has faced a detention order.

Read more: Peru’s Castillo Gets 18-Month Detention

After a lengthy process, Peruvian officials said Feb. 21 that Toledo, who is accused of negotiated bribes, will be extradited to be tried in Lima. While he won a short reprieve on Thursday night, he has an outstanding detention order in the country, raising the question of whether he will be in the same facility that houses the other former leaders.

“That’s the jail that corresponds to him for having been president,” said Cesar Nakazaki, a Peruvian lawyer who has defended three former presidents on criminal proceedings, two of whom have spent time in Barbadillo.

A representative at the INPE, who asked not to be named discussing policy decisions, said that Barbadillo jail would be able to host a third presidential inmate even if officially it has capacity for just two, without elaborating. INPE declined to comment.

Anti-Corruption Probes

Peruvian prosecutors have been hailed for their anti-corruption probes into senior officials, many accused of receiving bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht SA.

But critics have accused them of overusing pre-trial detention. Other than Fujimori, no former Peruvian president has yet been convicted of a crime.

The recurrent presidential prosecutions help explain why Peru needed a special facility for former leaders. The prison was initially built just to house Fuijimori, according to Nakazaki.

Fujimori fled Peru for Japan in 2000, renouncing the presidency via fax as his decade-long leadership crumbled amid corruption accusations. He was finally brought to justice after being extradited from Chile.

In addition to Fujimori, Toledo and Castillo, three other ex-presidents have faced detention orders. Ollanta Humala, who governed between 2011 and 2016, was in Barbadillo over allegations that Odebrecht had illegally financed his presidential campaign.

Read more: Impeached, Jailed, Wanted: President Is a Dangerous Job in Peru

In 2019, former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was arrested over alleged ties to the same builder, but was ultimately put under house arrest due to health issues. And in the same year Alan Garcia, who governed Peru twice, killed himself just before he was about to be arrested over allegations he had also received illegal funding from Odebrecht.

The presidential jail treatment has not extended to Peru’s first ladies. Nadine Heredia, Humala’s wife, and Keiko Fujimori, who served as first lady under her father, have both been jailed in the past, but in regular prisons.

--With assistance from Philip Tabuas.

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