LIMA — When José Domingo Pérez had just started his career as a public prosecutor, a 2008 investigation into a case in Peru’s Moquegua region led him to investigate several public officials, including then state governor Martín Vizcarra, whom he later cleared.
Fast forward to 2019 and Pérez has become a driving force behind Peru’s Lava Jato probe together with his boss Rafael Vela. Conducting a criminal investigation of a former president might mark the highpoint in most prosecutors’ careers. But the two attorneys have been pursuing three former heads-of-state — so implacably that one, Alan García, committed suicide rather than be detained, and another, Alejandro Toledo, fought extradition from California for over two years before his arrest on July 16. Meanwhile, they have also put two-time presidential runner-up Keiko Fujimori, leader of the Popular Force opposition party that dominates Peru’s Congress, in pre-trial detention related to charges of laundering illegal campaign donations.
It should come as no surprise then that the 42-year-old attorney has acquired rock star status among many Peruvians, who chant his name in the streets and fill the internet with memes of his courtroom speeches.
He was briefly sacked from his position on New Year’s Eve 2019, by then-Attorney General Pedro Chávarry, but the public outcry was so ferocious that Pérez was reinstated before the turkey leftovers had run out. Chávarry was then forced to step down.
Pérez remains self-deprecating. “I am just a simple public prosecutor who is carrying out his job with other attorneys trying to fight corruption,” he said in a recent interview in the local press. “We believe we are achieving some of our objectives, but we are still in the process.”
Taking on powerful vested interests has its costs. For the first time in 14 years as a prosecutor, Pérez now needs round-the-clock police protection.
Some jurists have criticized Pérez’s use of long periods of pre-trial detention for his high-profile suspects, including the ailing 80-year-old former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Yet even some critics say the prosecutor’s pursuit of high-level corruption is a potential watershed in Peru’s centuries-long battle against entrenched venality in its public institutions.
Tegel is an independent journalist based in Lima
Tags: Chávarry, Lava Jato, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Peru