The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) postponed the start date for a senior post granted to Nadine Heredia, the former first lady of Peru, who is facing money-laundering allegations at home.
Heredia, the co-founder of Peru’s Nationalist Party, was due to begin this month as head of the FAO liaison office at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva. The position carries with it immunity from prosecution as a U.N. official. Peru’s Supreme Court, Congress and the administration of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski agreed that before accepting a position granting Heredia diplomatic immunity, she must resolve her legal problems.
The governmental powers jointly called for her appointment to be postponed until an investigation is complete. There are allegations that she received $1.5 million in illegal payments from Brazilian construction firms and from the Venezuelan government when her husband, Ollanta Humala, ran for president in 2006 and 2011.
The FAO defended Heredia’s appointment, assuring Peru’s government that it followed a “transparent” recruitment process that independently evaluated her management skills.
“FAO considers that the basic principle that a person is presumed innocent until proven otherwise must be maintained and followed,” a statement from the FAO read. “Mrs. Heredia Alarcón is at the current time only the subject of an investigation and has not been formally accused nor convicted of any crime.”
Heredia faced additional fire from her opposition for leaving for Geneva last Tuesday. Peru has a history of presidents robbing and fleeing, the most recent of which, Alan García of the Aprista party and President Alberto Fujimori, both fled the country after major corruption scandals. In this context, Heredia – who may not leave Peru without knowledge of Judge Concepción Carhuancho, who oversees her case – was ordered to return to Peru last Friday. Heredia returned to Peru several days later.
“I want the judge to explain what the reasons for this sudden change of heart have been. I left the country without any restrictions and warned both the judge and the prosecutor,” Heredia told reporters Thursday morning at the airport in Lima.
She also told reporters she was “not fleeing the country,” adding that there is “a lot of political pressure” around her investigation. “You know my political group. It is a very politicized issue; nevertheless, I have the right to work, like any citizen.”
One of Heredia’s supporters, former nationalist party official Teófilo Gamarra, argued that Heredia is a victim of persecution by some “resentful of nationalism.”
The fate of Heredia’s career at the FAO remains to be seen, but some analysts say her cooperation with the judicial order may weaken allegations that she sought to escape, and improve her image among Peruvians. Heredia has already applied for a license to return to Geneva in about two weeks to resume her work at FAO.
The investigation comes after Kuczynski announced a crackdown on corruption in government last month.