May 19, 2016 / 3:38 AM / 2 years ago

Aide of Peru's Fujimori steps down after money laundering report

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori announced on Wednesday that a senior aide had resigned from her center-right party in a bid to calm an uproar following media reports that linked the two to money laundering.

Fujimori said Joaquin Ramirez, the party’s secretary general, offered to step down, even though both have denied any wrongdoing.

“He understands that there is an intent to upset my presidential campaign,” Fujimori told reporters in broadcast comments as she displayed Ramirez’ resignation letter.

In a joint Sunday broadcast, Univision’s investigative unit and Peruvian television show Cuarto Poder reported that Ramirez was the subject of a money laundering investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The report featured a man identified as a pilot and DEA informant who said he recorded Ramirez stating that he laundered $15 million for Fujimori’s previous political campaign.

The DEA said on Monday that Fujimori had never been under investigation, a statement she and her supporters touted as vindication.

But the agency made no reference to Ramirez and critics say Fujimori, the eldest daughter of imprisoned ex-president Alberto Fujimori, was too quick to defend Ramirez and dismiss questions over the source of his wealth.

Ramirez, who once worked collecting bus fares, owns several real estate and construction businesses and has been part of a preliminary money-laundering investigation by Peruvian prosecutors since 2014.

He has said Lima’s elite cannot believe a non-white man from a working-class background can become rich without being a criminal.

The scandal comes three weeks before a closely-fought election between Fujimori and centrist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a 77-year-old former World Bank economist and prime minister.

Most polls show the two candidates neck-and-neck ahead of the June 5 run-off.

Although Fujimori came in first by a wide margin in the first election round in April, she faces stiff opposition from Peruvians who loathe her father.

Alberto Fujimori is serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses during his authoritarian rule.

Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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