Peru opens criminal investigation of President Castillo

FILE PHOTO: Peru's Castillo leaves congress after lifting curfew imposed over fuel cost protests in Lima
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LIMA (Reuters) - Peru's attorney general's office announced on Sunday it was including President Pedro Castillo in an investigation into alleged crimes including influence peddling, collusion and "criminal organization."

Peru's Public Ministry on Twitter said Pablo Sanchez, the country's top prosecutor, will lead the investigation into Castillo given the "seriousness of the accusations" made in an investigation against former Minister of Transport and Communications Juan Silva and six legislators from the opposition party.

The prosecutor's office began working on the case more than three weeks ago to determine if there was an alleged "criminal network" in the ministry to award public contracts. According to statements by a collaborator and businesswoman linked to the government, President Castillo would have had knowledge of such a network.

The "preliminary" investigation against Castillo comes at a time when the leftist president faces other investigations of alleged corruption, as well as widespread and low approval ratings after only nine months in office.

"The president will be guaranteed the full exercise of his right to defense, and respect for article 117 of the Political Constitution," the Public Ministry stated on Twitter.

Presidents in Peru have immunity and cannot be indicted by the courts during their five-year term, but they can be investigated.

Other inquiries against Castillo, including alleged irregular purchases in a state oil company and pressuring military promotions, were suspended until the end of his term in 2026.

The government palace press office was not immediately available for comment. Castillo, who was a rural school teacher, has rejected previous accusations against him that he claims are attempts by opponents to remove him from power.

At the end of March, President Castillo survived an impeachment vote from congress.

(Report of Marco Aquino; Writing by Alexander Villegas; Editing by Mark Porter)