Police in Peru have raided the homes of key government officials in Lima as part of an investigation into allegations President Martin Vizcarra tried to obstruct a probe into nearly $50,000 in government contracts handed to a little-known singer.
The raids came a day after the Congress of the Republic of Peru opened impeachment proceedings against Vizcarra for “moral incapacity” over accusations he incited aides to lie to investigators to cover up meetings with Richard Cisneros, also known as Richard Swing.
Cisneros was awarded government contracts for motivational talks worth 175,400 Peruvian soles ($49,500).
Fourteen people are currently under investigation in the probe, which is led by provincial prosecutor Janny Sanchez Porturas.
“Searches were carried out of eight properties of people under investigation and witnesses in the case,” the public prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Saturday.
One of the properties searched included the home of a top presidential official, Miriam Morales. Another home of one of Vizcarra’s key assistants, Karem Roca, was also raided.
Cisneros’s home was also searched, as well as those of five officials from the culture ministry, which hired the singer.
Vizcarra, who has been in power since 2018, has said he will not resign amid the impeachment proceedings, which passed with 65 votes in favour, 36 against and 24 abstentions.
The political standoff risks plunging Peru into further crisis as the country battles one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. Peru is also in the throes of an economic crisis, with the pandemic slashing its second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) by 30 percent.
The scandal began when opposition legislator Edgar Alarcon presented Congress with three audio recordings that he claims demonstrate that the president tried to get his aides to lie to investigators about meetings with Cisneros.
In one recording, Vizcarra acknowledges having two meetings with the singer and appears to instruct his staff to downplay the meetings.
Critics say the meetings and contracts show a pattern of favouritism. Vizcarra has denied any wrongdoing, saying he knows Cisneros but had no role in the allocation of government contracts.
The president previously won popular support for an anti-corruption crusade that has put him at loggerheads with opponents in Congress, including over a reform banning convicted criminals from standing for election.
He told reporters on Friday that the latest challenge represented “a plot to destabilise the government”.
Peru is set to hold presidential elections next year and Vizcarra has already said he will not run again.