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Government agents raid Peruvian President Boluarte's residence

Police guard outside President Dina Boluarte's house during a raid ordered by the Attorney General's Office aimed at seizing luxury watches as part of a preliminary investigation into alleged illicit enrichment in Lima, Peru, Saturday, March 30, 2024.
Martin Mejia
Police guard outside President Dina Boluarte's house during a raid ordered by the Attorney General's Office aimed at seizing luxury watches as part of a preliminary investigation into alleged illicit enrichment in Lima, Peru, Saturday, March 30, 2024.

LIMA, Peru — Peruvian president Dina Boluarte said in a televised address on Saturday that she rejected the "unconstitutional and discriminatory" way an investigation into possible illicit enrichment is being carried out, after police broke down the front door of her house with a battering ram overnight in search of luxury watches.

Police had waited in vain for several minutes for someone to open the door late Friday, as dozens of armed officers carrying ballistic shields and batons looked on. Boluarte said the authorities did not allow enough time for her family members to rouse themselves, dress and answer the door, especially given the late hour.

After their raid around midnight, officers went to the presidential palace where, this time, they were admitted without resorting to force.

The country is accustomed to seeing searches in the homes of former presidents, but this marked the first time in Peru's history that police forcibly entered the home of a sitting president. Raids on the presidential palace had happened before.

Boluarte is being preliminarily investigated for allegedly acquiring an undisclosed collection of luxury watches since becoming vice president and social inclusion minister in July 2021, and then president in December 2022.

The investigation began in mid-March after a TV program spotlighted Boluarte wearing a Rolex watch that is worth up to $14,000 in Peru. Later, other programs detected at least two more Rolexes.

Boluarte, a 61-year-old lawyer, was a modest district official before entering then-President Pedro Castillo's government on a monthly salary of $8,136 in July 2021. Boluarte later assumed the presidency with a lower salary of $4,200 per month. Shortly thereafter, she began to display the luxury watches.

Boluarte did not list any Rolexes in an obligatory asset declaration document.

In her pre-recorded and televised address on Saturday, Boluarte did not clarify the origin of the watches. Boluarte said that her lawyer had advised her not to make any statement until she attends the prosecutor's office to "clarify the facts."

But she denied accusations of corruption. "I have always said that I'm an honest woman," Boluarte said.

"I ask myself a question: since when does a sector of the press care about what a president wears or does not wear? I hope and I want to believe that this is not a sexist or discriminatory issue," added Boluarte, who is Peru's first female president.

Boluarte's lawyer, Mateo Castañeda, told radio station RPP on Saturday morning that police even searched under the carpets at the presidential palace, and found approximately 10 "nice" watches. Castañeda did not say how many of the watches found in the palace were Rolexes.

"Staff from the Government Palace completely facilitated the diligence requested by the Attorney General's Office, which was carried out normally and without incident," Peru's presidency said in a message Saturday morning on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

Prime Minister Gustavo Adrianzén told RPP radio that "a storm was being generated where there is none" and the work of the prosecution is causing "political noise that affects investments."

Boluarte initially claimed ownership of at least one Rolex as a long-held possession and urged the media not to delve into personal matters during a press conference in March.

Earlier in the week, Attorney General Juan Villena criticized Boluarte's request to delay her appearance in court for two weeks, emphasizing her obligation to cooperate with the investigation.

Political turmoil is nothing new in Peru, which has seen six presidents in the last six years. But this "latest crisis will further tarnish the image of the Peruvian presidency, with potentially significant political and economic implications," said Benjamin Gedan, the director of the Wilson Center's Latin America Program.

Given the economic struggles of many Peruvians, "allegations of corruption could be incendiary," Gedan added.

Many see Boluarte's recent statements as contradicting her earlier pledge to speak truthfully to prosecutors, exacerbating a political crisis stemming from her unexplained ownership of Rolex watches.

The attorney general emphasized Boluarte's obligation to promptly produce the three Rolex watches for investigation, cautioning against their disposal or destruction.

Boluarte assumed the presidency in December 2022 following Castillo's impeachment after he attempted to dissolve congress and rule by decree. At least 49 people were killed in the protests that followed.

Critics accuse Boluarte's government of taking an increasingly authoritarian bent as it staves off demands for early elections and works with members of congress on laws that threaten to undermine the independence of Peru's judicial system.

Boluarte will testify to the prosecutor's office on April 5, Castañeda told RPP.

Since last year's mobilizations and their deadly consequences, there has not been a strong social movement capable of removing Boluarte, according to political analyst and lawyer Juan de la Puente.

"There is an enormous distrust that their presence on the streets can lead to anything positive," de la Puente said in a telephone interview, referring to potential protesters.

Still, the weekend raids highlight that Boluarte's government has run its course, de la Puente said, adding that defining exactly when she might step down is not yet possible.

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The Associated Press
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