First Peruvian ex-president on trial for Odebrecht scandal

FILE - Peru's former President Ollanta Humala is accompanied by his wife Nadine Heredia as he speaks to reporters at the entrance of their home after they were released from prison in Lima, Peru, April 30, 2018. The couple goes on trial on Feb. 21, 2022, accused of money laundering in a criminal organization, the first trial for corruption against a former president in a case linked to the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. (AP Photo/Joel Alonzo, File) (Joel Alonzo, Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

LIMA – A Peruvian judge started a trial Monday for corruption charges against former President Ollanta Humala and his wife, both accused of money laundering in a scandal involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht that has stained the highest political leaders in this South American country over the last two decades.

Humala is the first former leader of Peru standing trial in Latin America's biggest graft scandal, although three other ex-presidents have been involved in the case.

Prosecutors accused Humala and his wife of receiving over $3 million from Odebrecht for his presidential campaigns in 2006 and 2011. Both denied any wrongdoing.

Humala is a former army colonel who lost the 2006 election but won five years later. Prosecutors seek a 20-year sentence for the former leader and 26 years for his wife Nadine Heredia, who's been accused of having used the money to buy some properties.

Odebrecht admitted in a U.S. Justice Department plea agreement to paying $800 million in bribes to high-ranking officials around the region in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.

The trial is being done virtually because of the pandemic.

Humala and his wife were arrested in 2017 as a preventative measure but released the next year. Now, the former first lady is under house arrest and the ex-president is free, although he needs to go to a court every month to report and sign before a judge.

The couple appeared virtually before the judge only to hear the charges. The trial is expected to stretch over several months.

The Odebrecht corruption scandal has shaken Peru’s politics, with nearly every living former president now under investigation.

Former President Alejandro Toledo, in office from 2001 to 2006, has also been accused of illegally receiving money from Odebrecht and who's facing an extradition process from the U.S. Ex-leader Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who left office in 2018, is under house arrest for similar charges.

Former leader Alan García, in office from 2006 to 2011, shot himself in the head in 2019 as authorities arrived at his home to arrest him in connection with the Odebrecht probe.