LIMA, Peru — Vice president Omar Chehade has finally resigned, three months after becoming embroiled in a corruption scandal that has threatened to overshadow the incipient presidency of Ollanta Humala.
Chehade, an abrasive former anti-corruption prosecutor, was accused last year of attempting to use his position to improperly favor one of Peru’s richest business families, the Wongs.
He hosted a private dinner at a restaurant at which he was alleged to have pressured police generals to remove striking workers from a sugar refinery owned by the Wongs without a judge’s order.
Despite a wave of public anger and a request from the president that he stand down, Chehade desperately clung on to his job — from which he could not easily be sacked.
He has also repeatedly protested his innocence. But he changed his story several times and soon ended up with most members of Humala’s own Peru Wins party wanting to see the back of him.
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In his resignation letter, Chehade claimed that he had been the victim of a “an unjust and disproportionate media and political campaign.” He also said he was standing down in order “not to jeopardize the good image of the government.”
Several commentators promptly asked why, if that was his aim, he had not quit as soon as the allegations first surfaced.
Separately, Chehade this week narrowly managed to hang on to his seat in congress, which is unconnected to his position as vice president. A congressional commission voted 13 to 12 not to remove him, and also to block any criminal investigation.
“It is lamentable that some [congressional] groups have decided to protect Chehade,” complained one member of congress, Carlos Bruce. “Everyone who uses public office to benefit themselves should be happy.”
The Chehade case has shone a spotlight on the issue of corruption, which is widely entrenched in Peru.
Tackling it was a central plank of Humala’s presidential campaign but he has disappointed some supporters since taking office, including Avelino Guillen, the lawyer who prosecuted former president Alberto Fujimori and who presided over Humala’s transition team in the justice department.
“The great transformation in the fight against corruption has turned into the great frustration of the Peruvian people because one cannot see a determined attitude,” Guillen said recently.
“There have been many announcements. There is talk of crusades, but nothing concrete. We hope that situation will improve.”
The scale of the task has been thrown into stark relief by the Peruvian congress. Since its 130 members were sworn in at the end of July, it has emerged that more than 40, from all parties including Peru Wins, either have criminal convictions or are facing criminal investigations.
The charges include everything from murder to fraud, embezzlement, illegal gold-mining, running brothels, pirating cable TV signals and trafficking in contraband.
The issue has highlighted both how political parties here fail to carry out adequate background checks on candidates and how the police still lack a national computerized data system that would allow officers to learn of an individual’s convictions in other regions of the country.