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Peru’s president interrogated by prosecutors for hours amid expanding ‘Rolexgate’ probe

Peruvian President Dina Boluarte speaks into a microphone.
Peruvian President Dina Boluarte testified to prosecutors behind closed doors Friday as authorities investigate whether she illegally received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry.
(Eraldo Peres / Associated Press)
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Peruvian President Dina Boluarte was interrogated by prosecutors for five hours Friday as authorities investigate whether she illegally received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, luxury watches and jewelry.

Prosecutors have been investigating the highly unpopular leader on charges of illicit enrichment and failure to declare assets. After she testified, Boluarte rolled out of the offices in a car with tinted windows, surrounded by police and security. Neither Boluarte nor prosecutors detailed what was said in the meeting.

The unfolding scandal is the latest turmoil to wrack Peru’s political system in recent years.

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Earlier in the day, scuffles broke out as opposing protesters gathered near the building, waiting for Boluarte to leave. While a number of protesters came to defend the president, carrying a sign reading “Dina resist,” others blocks away from the presidential palace railed against the leader, carrying brooms and shouting, “Get them all out!” Riot police drove away the protesters with tear gas.

The probe began in mid-March after the digital news program “La Encerrona” spotlighted Boluarte wearing a Rolex watch worth up to $14,000 in Peru. TV shows later reported that the leader was seen wearing at least two other Rolexes, as well as a gold-and-diamond Cartier bracelet estimated to cost more than $54,000.

The controversy was quickly dubbed “Rolexgate” on social media.

Across Peru, televised images show government agents breaking into the president’s residence with a sledgehammer in a probe over Rolex watches.

March 30, 2024

Peruvian law requires officials to declare jewelry priced at more than $2,791.

It’s not clear where the watches and hundreds of thousands of dollars in bank transfers came from. Boluarte has provided scarce details about the transactions and jewelry, which she did not declare to authorities, but said the Rolex first shown in photos was the “fruit of my labor” after working since age 18.

Boluarte is unpopular with 86% of citizens, according to a March survey by the Institute of Peruvian Studies.

“She has no good governance, she’s rejected by the majority, her problems with the people are very serious,” said Alonso Cárdenas, political science professor at Peru’s Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University.

Armed police officers recently broke down the front door of Boluarte’s house with a battering ram and entered the property to search for the watches. They did not find them and moved on to the presidential palace, also to no avail.

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Top prosecutor Juan Villena said Tuesday that his office was expanding the scope of the investigation, given his team’s belief that Boluarte has even more undeclared assets than originally suspected.

The office estimated that her jewelry, including the Cartier bracelet and watches, may be worth as much as $500,000 and said she received more than $400,000 in “deposits of unknown origin” to her bank account.

Peru’s first female president appeared in a military ceremony on national television Friday in her first official event as head of state.

Dec. 9, 2022

People are pouring into Peru’s capital to protest against President Dina Boluarte and show their support for her ousted predecessor, Pedro Castillo.

Jan. 19, 2023

Boluarte, a 61-year-old lawyer, was a modest district official before entering President Pedro Castillo’s government in July 2021 as vice president and social inclusion minister, with a monthly salary of $8,136. After Parliament dismissed Castillo, Boluarte became president in December 2022, with a salary of $4,200. Shortly thereafter, she began wearing the watches in public.

The raid on Friday marked the first time in Peru’s history that police forcibly entered the home of a sitting president. It came after Boluarte requested more time to answer a court subpoena to testify about the case; the request was denied as lead prosecutor Villena emphasized Boluarte’s obligation to cooperate with the investigation.

The nation is no stranger to political tumult. Peru has had six presidents in six years, following waves of political controversies. That doesn’t mean Boluarte is soon to be ejected from the presidency; analysts say she is unlikely to face any real consequences — at least in the short term. Sitting presidents in Peru can’t be charged with crimes while in office, and Congress will be reluctant to move forward with impeachment proceedings.

Boluarte’s alliance with a coalition of congressional leaders means she will likely stay in office until 2026, said Will Freeman, a fellow of Latin American studies for the Council of Foreign Relations. Freeman says Boluarte is a “puppet” who has enabled lawmakers to pass reforms that are slowly “dismantling democracy” so they can stay in power.

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Peru’s Congress on Thursday shot down two requests by a number of lawmakers to remove Boluarte from office.

Associated Press writer Briceño reported from Lima and Janetsky from Mexico City.

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