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PERU: Army Chief to Appear Before Anti-Corruption Prosecutor

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Nov 18 2008 (IPS) - Peru’s army commander-in-chief, Edwin Donayre, will appear on Nov. 25 before anti-corruption prosecutor Marlene Berrú, who is investigating his alleged responsibility for 80,000 gallons of gasoline that are unaccounted for.

Berrú had already summoned General Donayre six times, but he had not shown up due to “conflicting appointments,” he said. The prosecutor had to turn to Defence Minister Ántero Flores Aráoz to put pressure on the army chief to appear in her office.

Press reports of the prosecutor’s request unleashed a political scandal, with ministers and judges demanding that the general fulfil his duty to show up.

And on Sunday, the general announced that he would be stepping down on Dec. 5. Both he and Minister Flores Aráoz denied that the announcement had anything to do with the scandal, and argued that his two-year term as army chief was merely coming to an end.

Donayre also announced that he would be testifying before Berrú on Nov. 25.

Flores Aráoz told the press that it was up to President Alan García to decide whether Donayre would be simply stepping aside as army chief, or would retire.

On Dec. 5, 2006, Donayre replaced César Reinoso as head of the army, amidst accusations of irregularities in gasoline allotments.

Francisco Vargas, the army inspector general at the time, discovered that Reinoso was doling out extraordinary amounts of gasoline and oil to senior military commanders, including Donayre, who commanded the Southern Military Region from January to September 2006.

Donayre’s response was to tell the press that he had “documented the use of every last drop of fuel assigned” to him.

But a report by the audit office, seen by IPS, said that Donayre requested 80,000 gallons (303,000 litres) of fuel without clear justification, that he forged documents on its planned use, and that part of the fuel supplied was not used, as he alleged, by military units in the south, but was diverted to army headquarters in Lima.

Based on this report, Berrú summoned the army commander.

Donayre is part of President García’s inner circle, and has won the support of the most rightwing political and media sectors. He is actively involved in efforts to gain an amnesty or pardon for members of the security forces accused of human rights crimes committed during the war against the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas, which claimed nearly 70,000 lives between 1980 and 2000, including a large number of civilians.

In May this year, the bodies of 60 civilians were found in a mass grave in the southern highlands village of Putis, where a counterinsurgency army base operated in 1984. Human rights organisations are demanding that the army apologise for these atrocities.

“And who is going to apologise for the army’s 1,200 dead and 1,400 disabled?” was Donayre’s reply.

After he was named commander-in-chief, Donayre promoted several of his former classmates to the rank of general and placed them in key posts, sidelining or retiring other high-ranking military officers.

One of those displaced was General Vargas, who as army inspector general had discovered the irregular fuel transactions in which a dozen high-ranking officers, including Donayre, are implicated.

In contrast, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Luis Cateriano and the commander of the Southern Military Region, Francisco Contreras, both of whom had been accused by Vargas, remained in their posts.

The audit office report said there was evidence of misappropriation of funds and forgery of documents, for which suspicion fell on Donayre.

“It is right and proper for General Donayre to appear before the prosecutor, because there is an audit office report about alleged irregularities in the Southern Military Region,” former Auditor General Genaro Matute told IPS.

In September, 16 former army commanders-in-chief belonging to the military Consultative Council sent a letter to Donayre questioning his behaviour as army chief.

The Consultative Council took issue with “the self-centred attitude, lack of seriousness and, in our view, mistaken manner in which you conduct the institution; we do not identify with the way you exercise command, as it conveys an inappropriate image and undermines the exalted position of General Commander of the Army,” according to the letter which was seen by IPS.

Donayre’s response was to tell the press that the former commanders were upset because he had cut back their privileges.

In April this year, businessman Juan Herbias alleged on the television programme “Cuarto Poder” (Fourth Power) that the former head of the Military Hospital, Samuel Gamero, had solicited a bribe in exchange for permitting Herbias to continue running a network of pharmacies and laboratories within army installations.

When the interview was over, Donayre telephoned the programme and announced that Gamero would immediately be sacked. He also promised a thorough investigation.

Donayre and Herbias are close friends, a detail that was not mentioned on the programme. Neither was it said that Gamero had requested that Herbias’ businesses be removed from the Military Hospital.

The evidence produced by Herbias, a tape recording in which Gamero supposedly asked him for money, was discredited by a police forensic report, to which IPS obtained access, which found that the tape had been tampered with.

A military inspection found that Herbias had not been paying the rent due to the army for the businesses he ran on their premises. Military Hospital authorities told IPS that he owes over 200,000 dollars.

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