Judge extends pretrial detention for Peru’s ex-President Castillo

The former president will now serve 36 months as he awaits trial on charges including rebellion and organised crime.

Free Peru party presidential candidate Pedro Castillo poses for a photo on his land in Chugur, Peru, April 16, 2021.
Peru’s attorney general filed additional charges against former President Pedro Castillo in February [File: Martin Mejia/AP Photo]

A judge in Peru has lengthened the duration of former President Pedro Castillo’s pre-trial detention from 18 months to 36, as the disgraced head of state faces charges stemming from his attempt to dissolve Congress and rule by decree in December.

Judge Juan Carlos Checkley handed down the decision on Thursday in the wake of an additional investigation announced in February.

Prosecutors at the time formalised plans to probe Castillo’s short tenure in office on charges of influence peddling, organised crime and acting as an accomplice to collusion.

Two of Castillo’s ministers were also implicated in February’s announcement and on Thursday, they were likewise given 36 months in pre-trial detention. They include ex-transportation minister Juan Silva and Geiner Alvarado, formerly in charge of housing.

Thursday’s decision could see Castillo in pre-trial detention through March 2026.

While the judge explained that the extended detention was to prevent Castillo from fleeing the country or interfering in the investigation, the ex-president’s lawyer Eduardo Pachas said his client was being “politically persecuted”, according to the El Comercio newspaper.

Pachas added that Castillo planned to appeal the judge’s decision. Castillo has denied all charges against him, including allegations that he led a criminal network while in office.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday, the former president wrote: “I reiterate my innocence regarding the false facts that I am accused of and denounce again this unjust kidnapping for serving my country loyally as President of the Republic.”

Castillo has been in custody since December 7, when — on the eve of a third impeachment hearing in Peru’s Congress — he issued a televised statement dissolving the Congress and announcing a “government of exception”.

The move prompted widespread criticism with many calling it a coup. By the end of the day, Congress had voted in an overwhelming majority to impeach Castillo and remove him from office. He was subsequently detained by police.

His former vice president, Dina Boluarte, was quickly sworn in as his replacement.

Castillo’s arrest sparked widespread protests across Peru, particularly in the rural regions that formed his political stronghold. Originally from the small town of San Luis de Puña in northwestern Peru, Castillo had been a dark-horse candidate in the 2021 presidential race, narrowly edging out right-wing rival Keiko Fujimori in a run-off election.

A former union organiser and school teacher, the left-wing Castillo campaigned on populist themes, with slogans like “Only The People Will Save The People” and “No More Poor People in a Rich Country”.

Since Castillo’s removal from office, anti-government protests have gripped Peru, with more than 60 people killed and hundreds injured amid clashes with law enforcement. Boluarte and members of her government currently face an investigation into their roles in the deaths.

The protesters, many of them Indigenous or rural Peruvians, have shut down airports, blocked roads and organised marches to call for Castillo’s release, Boluarte’s resignation, new elections and a revised constitution.

Several Latin American leaders have also spoken out in support of Castillo, including Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Tensions with Peru have risen as López Obrador granted asylum to Castillo’s family, later calling Boluarte a “puppet” of oligarchs.

In February, in the wake of López Obrador’s remarks, Peru withdrew its ambassador to Mexico. It had previously declared Mexico’s ambassador a “persona non grata” in the country.

Castillo faces charges that include rebellion and conspiracy for his actions on December 7.

The additional investigation launched in February will examine whether he and members of his administration were also involved in a scheme to award public contracts in exchange for bribes while in office. Congress had passed a constitutional complaint that month allowing the investigation to proceed.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies