Peru's president arrives to testify before prosecutors amid expanding 'Rolexgate' probe

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peruvian President Dina Boluarte testified to prosecutors behind closed doors Friday as authorities investigate whether she illegally received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, luxury watches and jewelry.

Prosecutors have been investigating the highly unpopular leader on charges of illicit enrichment and failures to declare assets. Boluarte rolled up to the building Friday morning in a car with tinted windows surrounded by armed police, passing throngs of journalists and a number of protesters.

PERU’S PRESIDENT WILL ANSWER QUESTIONS OVER OWNERSHIP OF LUXURY WATCHES, HER LAWYERS SAY

One woman chanted “Dina, murderer, the people repudiate you, Dina, thief, the people repudiate you.” Shortly after, the Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that they had started taking the president’s testimony.

Peru-Boluarte

Police and prosecutors stand outside President Dina Boluarte’s house during a raid aimed at seizing luxury watches as part of a preliminary investigation into alleged illicit enrichment in Lima, Peru, Saturday, March 30, 2024.  (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

The unfolding scandal is the latest turmoil that has wracked Peru’s political system in recent years. As of Friday morning, Boluarte had given no public indications about what she planned to say in her testimony.

The probe began in mid-March after a digital news program La Encerrona spotlighted Boluarte wearing a Rolex watch that is worth up to $14,000 in Peru. Other TV shows later flagged that the leader was seen wearing at least two other Rolexes as well as a gold and diamond Cartier bracelet estimated to cost more than $54,000. The controversy was quickly dubbed “Rolexgate” on social media.

Peruvian law requires officials to declare jewelry whose price exceeds $2,791, and it’s still not clear where the watches and hundreds of thousands of dollars in bank transfers came from.

Boluarte has provided scarce details about the suspicious transactions and jewelry, which she did not declare to authorities, but said that the Rolex first shown in photos was the “fruit of my labor” working since she was 18.

The controversy will only add headwinds for Boluarte, who is unpopular with 86% of Peruvians, according to a March survey by the Institute of Peruvian Studies.

“She has no good governance, she’s rejected by the majority, her problems with the people (of Peru) are very serious,” said Alonso Cárdenas, political science professor at Peru’s Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University.

Late Friday, armed police officers broke down the front door of Boluarte’s house with a battering ram and entered the property to search for the watches. They did not find them, and moved on to the presidential palace, where they also weren’t located.

Top prosecutor Juan Villena said Tuesday that his office was expanding the scope of the investigation, given that investigators believe Boluarte has even more undeclared assets than they originally suspected.

The office estimated that her jewelry, including the Cartier bracelet and watches, may be worth as much as $500,000, and said she received more than $400,000 in “deposits of unknown origin” into her bank account.

Boluarte, a 61-year-old lawyer, was a modest district official before entering then-President Pedro Castillo’s government as vice president and social inclusion minister with a total monthly salary of $8,136 in July 2021. She became president in December 2022 — after Parliament dismissed Castillo — with a salary of $4,200 per month. Shortly after, she began wearing the watches in public.

The raid on Friday marked the first time in Peru’s history that police forcibly entered the home of a sitting president. It came after Boluarte requested more time to answer a court subpoena to testify about the case, which was denied as lead prosecutor Villena emphasized Boluarte’s obligation to cooperate with the investigation.

The Andean nation is no stranger to political tumult. Peru has had six presidents in six years, following waves of political controversies. That doesn’t mean Boluarte is soon to be ejected from the presidency; analysts told The Associated Press she is unlikely to face any real consequences – at least in the short term. Sitting presidents in Peru can’t be charged with crimes while in office, and Congress will be reluctant to move forward with impeachment proceedings.

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Boluarte’s alliance with a coalition of congressional leaders means she will likely stay in office until 2026, said Will Freeman, a fellow of Latin American studies for the Council of Foreign Relations. Freeman says Boluarte is a “puppet” who has enabled the lawmakers to pass reforms that are slowly “dismantling democracy” so that they can stay in power.

Peru’s Congress on Thursday shot down two requests by a number of lawmakers to remove Boluarte from office.

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