Peru’s president threatened by Rolex watch scandal

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Peruvian President Dina Boluarte has reshuffled her cabinet as she struggles to reset her presidency in the face of a scandal over her luxury watch collection.

Six out of 19 ministers were replaced on Monday night, including the interior and education ministers, days after authorities raided Boluarte’s home and the government palace as part of an illicit enrichment probe.

Boluarte is under preliminary investigation by the attorney-general’s office for allegedly acquiring a collection of high-end watches since becoming vice-president and a cabinet minister in July 2021.

The scandal has been brewing since mid-March, when local media pointed out Boluarte, who comes from a modest family and was a jobbing lawyer before entering politics, had been seen sporting a Rolex that is sold for about $14,000 in Peru, which they suggested was expensive beyond her means. As president she is paid $4,200 a month.

The president has also been seen wearing at least two other Rolexes, and has listed none of the three on asset disclosure forms.

Boluarte has denied any wrongdoing and said she bought the watches herself. She assumed office in December 2022 following the removal and imprisonment of Pedro Castillo, who had attempted to close congress and rule by decree.

In a televised address on Saturday, Boluarte said the raid on her home was “arbitrary, disproportionate, and abusive”.

Boluarte is deeply unpopular: her approval ratings were hovering about 9 per cent before the watch scandal emerged.

She has struggled to recover from public outrage over the killing of at least 49 demonstrators by police amid a wave of violent protests that swept the country’s impoverished south following Castillo’s arrest. Human rights groups have said authorities used indiscriminate and disproportionate force.

Last month, her prime minister Alberto Otárola resigned in the face of corruption accusations, which he denied. That left Boluarte bereft of a key ally.

Otárola’s replacement, Gustavo Adrianzén, must win an investiture vote in Congress this week; if he fails, the entire cabinet must resign, compounding the political turmoil.

Peru, a major copper and fruit exporter, is no stranger to political dysfunction, having had six presidents since 2018.

A coalition of left-wing opposition lawmakers on Monday presented a motion to begin impeachment proceedings against Boluarte for “permanent moral incapacity”, though they are thought to lack the support required to oust her. She has survived two previous impeachment attempts.

Analysts say Boluarte’s many lawmakers are unlikely to break with her because of their own unpopularity. Under Peru’s constitution, if the president and then the vice-president are removed from office or resign, the president of Congress replaces them and must immediately call elections.

“Right-leaning parties in Congress will want to block any revival of public pressure to bring forward elections even if it means continuing to support the hapless Boluarte,” said Nicholas Watson, managing director of Teneo, a political risk consultancy.

Farid Kahhat, a political-science professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, said: “They are not congresspeople that respond to long-term political calculations or party directions, but to individual interests which sometimes include criminal activities.”

He noted mass protests have not taken place in Peru since January last year. “As long as those circumstances do not change, I’m afraid this government will be able to survive this crisis,” he said.

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