January 1, 2019 / 7:49 PM / 6 months ago

Peru's Vizcarra vows to fight graft after turn in Odebrecht case

LIMA, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra on Tuesday denounced a surprise decision by Peru's top prosecutor to remove two key investigators responsible for probing the massive graft scandal triggered by Brazilian builder Odebrecht.

Upon hearing the news, Vizcarra cut short his trip to Brazil, where he had been attending the inauguration of President Jair Bolsonaro, saying he would return home to fight against "corruption and impunity."

"We emphatically reject the decision taken by (prosecutor general) Pedro Chavarry," Vizcarra told reporters upon his return to Lima. "We will announce measures after a technical and legal analysis, respecting the division of powers and the Constitution."

Chavarry removed prosecutors Jose Perez and Rafael Vela late Monday night, saying the duo had failed to respect authority and hierarchy at Peru's Public Ministry. The two investigators helped lead a special team that earlier this month announced plans to seek fines of about $180 million from local companies, politicians and businessmen for taking part in kickback schemes involving Odebrecht construction projects in Peru.

Odebrecht in 2016 admitted in a plea deal with U.S., Brazilian and Swiss authorities that it had bribed officials in a dozen countries, including Peru.

The team Perez and Vela helped lead has targeted people at the highest levels of power in the Andean nation. Four former Peruvian presidents, the current opposition leader and several local construction companies are all under investigation in connection with Odebrecht. All have denied wrongdoing.

Chavarry's decision to remove Perez and Vela was announced days after Perez accused Chavarry of allegedly obstructing justice in a separate case involving several judges accused of corruption.

Perez and Vela had also targeted former Peruvian presidents Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Ollanta Humala y Alejandro Toledo, all of whom are under investigation in connection with the Odebrecht scandal.

Vizcarra said on Monday that Odebrecht should not be able to continue working in Peru because the Brazilian construction company had "contaminated private activity" and admitted bribing public officials. (Reporting by Ursula Scollo Writing by Dave Sherwood Editing by Paul Simao)

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