The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), confirmed it is conducting an investigation into a covert recording in which a senior manager in the presidential campaign of Keiko Fujimori allegedly brags of laundering $15 million for her campaign, barely three weeks before a close run-off election on June 5.
The DEA commented on the case after reporters from Univision Investiga and Cuarto Poder (Fourth Estate) of America TV Peru, asked officials to respond to allegations by a Peruvian commercial pilot who claims to have worked for the federal counter-drug agency.
The pilot Jesús F. Vásquez told reporters that he surreptitiously recorded remarks by Peruvian congressman Joaquín Ramírez Gamarra in 2013, as part of an undercover operation in Miami.
"Suddenly we are talking and [Ramírez] says: 'You know that Chinese woman [Fujimori] gave me $15 million in the last campaign to launder, for the 2011 election campaign, and I laundered it through a chain of ... gas stations?'" Vásquez recalled.
Ramírez is currently the Secretary General of Popular Force, the movement led by Fujimori and is being investigated by Peruvian authorities for money laundering. The laundering investigation against Ramírez in Peru includes several gas stations listed in his name.
Ramírez and Fujimori both denied the allegations on Monday.
"I categorically reject having handled or handed over money to ... Ramírez," Fujimori told local TV in Cusco.
“Keiko Fujimori is not currently, nor has been previously, under investigation by DEA.”
Polls show the daughter of disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori in a close race in the June 5 run-off with economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
The pilot said that after hearing Ramírez's remark he tried make sure of what he had heard, with the help of a recording device.
"So, to check, I say: 'The Chinese woman Keiko Fujimori gave you $15 million to launder?'" Vásquez said he asked Ramírez.
"He said 'Yes,' she gave it to me,' Ramírez replied, according to Vasquez. "It was all recorded,'' added Vásquez.
Keiko Fujimori's father is serving a 25-year sentence for crimes against humanity and misuse of public funds. Transparency International estimated he amassed a fortune of $600 million during his 10 years in office. Keiko Fujimori has also has been investigated in Peru for using her father's stolen money to finance her studies in the United States.
Univision Investiga e-mailed a summary of Vásquez's account to the Miami offices of the DEA for comment. A spokeswoman for the agency, Judith Anne Lambert, confirmed the investigation during an on-camera interview. She also said she was aware of the e-mail.
"This is a sensitive investigation and it's ongoing,'' Lambert said.
Standing next to her was the head of the DEA's Miami Field Division, Adolphus Wright, who unexpectedly showed up outside the agency's offices in Weston, Florida, when a team from Univision and Amercia TV Peru was filming Vásquez as he tried to deliver a letter in which he requested information about the results of the investigation.
The DEA later issued a statement clarifying that “Keiko Fujimori is not currently, nor has been previously, under investigation by DEA.” The agency did not deny that the tape of Ramírez was being investigated.
Vásquez was able to deliver the letter on Friday which he said was addressed to the agent who led the investigation.
In the letter Vásquez detailed cited the alleged $15 million laundering operation, saying "I need your support to dismantle this gang that is about to take over my country, already the number one producer of coca in the world."
Vásquez explained that two undercover DEA agents from the Miami office traveled to Lima in 2014 as part of an investigation involving Ramírez and some of his relatives in Lima.
A Peruvian immigration document obtained by journalists shows that one of the undercover agents arrived in Lima on March 3 that year.
Ramírez faces a request by a Peruvian prosecutor, Rosa Villa Ramírez, to lift his parliamentary immunity. In a complaint, the prosecutor said that the congressman had "huge real estate assets involving millions in investments and shares, in legal entities, that bear no relation to his income as a public bus collector."
Ramirez did not answer calls from Univision or America TV.
In a television interview he said he was willing to give up any tax secrecy to prove that he respects the law.
The press office of Keiko Fujimori did not respond to interview requests from Univision and America TV.
On Monday Fujimori told Peruvian media she would ask the DEA "if there really is such an investigation." She said she would make the request to the U.S. embassy within hours.
Vásquez reported to have met Joaquín Ramírez in 2010 through a relative of the politician. The following year, the congressman met with Vásquez in Miami and told him he wanted to create an aviation company but needed to complete a feasibility study first.
In 2013 Vásquez said Ramírez called him to say the deal was close to going through, adding he had a preliminary agreement to handle travel for teams in the Peruvian Football Federation.
Ramírez owns four football teams including Club UTC (Technical University of Cajamarca) who were promoted to the first division in 2013.
Vásquez alerted the DEA that Ramírez was planning a Miami trip and agreed to record all their conversations using a mini-recorder in his pocket.
At the end of each day a DEA agent would download the content of the recorder onto a laptop. Their conversations lasted two weeks. Vasquez also suspects that agents installed a microphone in his car.
On one occasion the pilot said Ramírez invited him to a luxurious apartment in the central tower of the hotel and residential complex St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, just north of Miami Beach, where the congressman was staying.
Miami Dade County Property records show that Ramírez is a director in a company, Harbour Holdings SR 702 C, that owns an apartment in the building.
The one bedroom apartment was purchased in November 2012 for $2 million, of which the company paid $1 million in cash.
While in Miami, Ramírez was in constant contact with Keiko Fujimori and her father via instant phone messages, said Vásquez.
While the mini-recorder was working, Ramírez made purchases of $10,000 in Louis Vuitton stores and Porsche Design at the Aventura Mall in north Miami, and visited the hangars of an aeronautical company in Pompano Beach where she posed or photos with Vásquez and he took a picture of himself in the cockpit of an executive jet.