Peru’s Defense Minister Jorge Nieto resigned Wednesday, becoming the second cabinet member to step down after President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski controversially pardoned former dictator Alberto Fujimori, who had been incarcerated for crimes against humanity.
Nieto’s departure, confirmed to French news agency AFP by a ministry official Wednesday evening, comes less than a week after Culture Minister Salvador del Solar had resigned. The head of the country’s public broadcaster has also quit.
The political turmoil follows large street protests triggered by Kuczynski’s Dec. 24 pardon, which many see as a reward to Fujimori’s family, after Fujimori’s son Kenji, a lawmaker, drained votes away from an impeachment vote in Congress against the president, who is being investigated for possible corruption.
Fujimori, 79, is linked to commanding death squads that carried out disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the war against insurgent groups Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The former president also directed the forced sterilization of approximately 300,000 women between 1996 and 2000.
The brutal dictator had been imprisoned for more than a decade but the pardon freed him less than halfway through his 25-year sentence.
Lawmakers had scrutinized the president for allegedly lying to cover up his ties to Odebrecht, a giant Brazilian construction company that has admitted to paying bribes to officials across Latin America to secure public works contracts.
Kuczynski barely survived the impeachment vote, but the center-right leader, a former Wall Street banker, remains weakened in power, with the opposition in charge of congress.
Nieto’s resignation had been rumored for days, with he and Kuczynski said to be at odds over the pardon. A week ago the defense minister was absent at the swearing-in of the country’s new interior minister, who replaced Carlos Basombrio who had quit few weeks ago before the pardon but in the wake of the Odebrecht scandal surrounding the president.
After initial denials, Kuczynski in December admitted he had taken money from Odebrecht for what he and the Brazilian company insisted were legitimate consulting fees. He denies any wrongdoing.
The money was received between 2004 and 2013, a period during part of which Kuczynski was economy minister and head of cabinet for then-president Alejandro Toledo.
The company has said it paid US$20 million in kickbacks to Toledo, whom Peru wants extradited from the United States to face charges.
Also in an audio released last week by a Peruvian investigative outlet Brazilian businessman Marcelo Odebrecht was heard telling prosecutors last November that his company financially supported former Peruvian Presidents Alan García, Toledo and Ollanta Humala as well as opposition leader Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former dictator Fujimori.