LIMA (AFP) – A Peruvian judge on Thursday extended former president Pedro Castillo’s pre-trial detention to 36 months, the Supreme Court announced.
Castillo, who was ousted and arrested in December, was already being held over charges of rebellion, to which prosecutors on Wednesday added criminal organisation, collusion and influence trafficking.
The judge in charge of the Supreme Court-led investigation Juan Carlos Checkley, ordered the three-year pre-trial detention for Castillo “allegedly being the leader of a criminal organisation”, the court said on Twitter. It has been alleged that Castillo was involved in influence peddling at Petroperu, the state-owned oil company, as well as several government ministries.
The judge also ordered a 36-month pre-trial detention for Castillo’s former transportation minister Juan Silva Villegas, who is currently at large.
Castillo, 53, has been behind bars since December 7 when he was arrested after attempting to dissolve parliament and rule by decree.
The leftist leader had been trying to ward off a third vote in Congress to impeach him for alleged corruption.
Since coming to power in July 2021, he faced vehement political opposition on all fronts and investigations started almost immediately into numerous graft claims.
His ouster sparked mass nationwide protests that have left at least 54 people dead and some 600 injured from clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
Protesters have demanded the resignation of Castillo’s successor, his former vice president Dina Boluarte.
They also want immediate elections, a new constitution and the dissolution of parliament.
In December, Boluarte called on Congress to bring forward elections but parliament rejected the idea in several separate votes despite an initial vote in favour, which was subsequently never ratified.
Boluarte is Peru’s sixth president since March 2018 and the first woman to hold the role.
Demonstrations against her rule have been fiercest in poor southern regions with large Indigenous populations who view Castillo as one of their own.
Speaking at a virtual hearing on Wednesday Castillo, a former rural school teacher and union leader, said he would appeal the ruling.
“I strongly and categorically deny being responsible for and part of a criminal network,” he said.
“The only crime I committed was serving my country as president of the republic.”
Castillo’s ouster has also provoked a diplomatic row between Peru and Mexico, which had offered to give asylum to his family including his wife, who is also facing corruption charges.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has repeatedly said that Castillo’s removal from office was “illegal”, leading Lima to expel Mexico’s ambassador and to recall its own ambassador from Mexico City.
Boluarte in late February said that Lopez Obrador has “decided to support the coup d’etat carried out by the now former president Pedro Castillo”.