LIMA, July 20 (Reuters) - The government of Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said on Thursday that it was firing its special counsel in a corruption probe of Brazilian builder Odebrecht, sparking accusations of interference.
Justice Minister Marisol Perez said she dismissed special attorney Katherine Ampuero for blocking Odebrecht’s sale of its irrigation company Olmos. Perez said the decision put thousands of jobs at risk and deprived the state of revenues it would have seized as payment for reparations under a new anti-graft law.
Ampuero argued that Odebrecht would have used the sale of Olmos to pay its creditors abroad instead of Peru, which the company denied.
“Trust in Ampuero was lost because she did not apply the law, and by not applying the law she created economic loss for the state,” Perez told reporters on Thursday.
The announcement put the Odebrecht graft probe in Peru under increased scrutiny and renewed tensions between Kuczynski’s year-old government and the opposition-controlled Congress, which has already pressured three of Kuczynski’s ministers to step down.
“The president should ask Perez to resign immediately,” Popular Force lawmaker Hector Becerril said in broadcast comments on local broadcaster RPP. “This is a government of lobbyists.”
Odebrecht has been offloading its assets as it faces at least $2.6 billion in fines and graft probes in several countries where it has admitted bribing officials. In Peru, the company has been negotiating a plea deal with the attorney general’s office in which Ampuero had taken part as the state’s representative.
Anti-corruption state attorney Julia Principe said she was fired for refusing to dismiss Ampuero and noted that Ampuero had asked the attorney general’s office in March to look into any links that Kuczynski might have had with Odebrecht.
“This situation is a clear interference by the executive branch,” Principe said in a news conference flanked by Ampuero.
Kuczynski’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Kuczynski has denied knowing about or being involved in the $29 million in bribes that Odebrecht has said it paid to officials in Peru over a decade.
Last year Odebrecht said it agreed to sell Olmos to Brookfield Infrastructure Partners LP and Suez SA for an undisclosed sum.
The sale will remain blocked pending an appeals court’s decision on whether to allow it.
Reporting By Mitra Taj and Teresa Cespedes; Editing by Cynthia Osterman