March 18, 2015 / 11:50 PM / 3 years ago

Peru's Humala to ask Bolivia to extradite his former advisor

LIMA (Reuters) - The government of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala said on Wednesday it would ask Bolivia to extradite a former advisor to face corruption charges in a scandal that threatens to erode Humala’s popularity.

An extradition request will soon be sent to La Paz, Prime Minister Ana Jara said on local broadcaster RPP as critics accused the government of demurring to shield its former ally.

Martin Belaunde, Humala’s campaign advisor during his failed 2006 presidential bid, fled to the neighboring Andean nation last year, after prosecutors demanded his arrest on charges of graft and unlawful association.

Prosecutors say Belaunde belonged to a criminal network involving the now-jailed leader of a rich mining region and had fixed million-dollar public contracts.

Belaunde has denied the accusations and said he is being persecuted politically. His return to Peru could amplify the closely followed scandal ahead of elections next year.

Humala has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of Belaunde’s alleged criminal activities.

The centrist leader has been struggling to jumpstart flagging economic growth while also fending off attacks by an increasingly powerful opposition.

Humala has said Belaunde was an important advisor during his 2006 campaign and helped with some party activities in 2011, when the retired military officer won the presidential election in a close second-round race.

But former party members active in Humala’s 2011 bid have said Belaunde was a high-level campaign coordinator. One said Belaunde had been tasked with paying expenses related to political rallies.

Images of Belaunde with Humala and the first lady, the head of his nationalist party, have circulated widely.

Belaunde has been under house arrest in Bolivia since January. Bolivia rejected Belaunde’s request for political asylum this month.

In March, Humala’s approval rating rose 3 points to 25 percent on education reforms, the first increase since December. Still, the rating remains at one of the lowest levels in his government, according to Ipsos.

The belief that there is corruption in Humala’s government has been the top reason for disapproving of him since November, after the Belaunde scandal became well-known.

Humala has also faced allegations, which he denies, that he ordered spies to track opponents.

In Peru, presidents cannot hold two consecutive terms. Humala’s party has not yet announced a 2016 candidate.

Reporting By Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by David Gregorio

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