LIMA, PERU - Supporters cheered late Friday as once-powerful opposition leader and two-time Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori left the prison where she had been held while being investigated for alleged corruption. Peru's Constitutional Tribunal approved her release.
Smiling broadly, the daughter of jailed ex-President Alberto Fujimori walked out of the women's prison in the Lima district of Chorrillos and was handed a bouquet of roses by her husband, Mark Villanella, who had been on a hunger strike demanding her release.
Keiko Fujimori called her 13-month prison stay the "most painful time of my life, so the first thing I want to do now that I am on the street is thank God for giving me the strength to resist."
She was freed by the Constitutional Tribunal in 4-3 vote earlier this week. The magistrates noted the decision on a habeas corpus request does not constitute a judgment on her guilt or innocence with regards to accusations she accepted money from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Fujimori could still be returned to a cell.
Dozens of riot police were present in case of protests by opponents who have called her release another blow for entrenched impunity for the corrupt in the South American country. But most of the people outside the prison were her supporters.
"The Constitutional Tribunal has corrected a great damage done to us in a process filled with abuses and arbitrariness," Fujimori said.
Changed political landscape
The 44-year-old, who was jailed in October 2018, faces a radically different political landscape outside of prison.
Her Popular Force party held a majority in congress until September, when President Martin Vizcarra dissolved the legislature in a popular move he described as necessary to uproot corruption. The conservative Popular Force will participate in January legislative elections, but Fujimori is not expected to be a candidate and analysts predict that her party could fare poorly in the voting.
As party leader, Fujimori helped fuel the impeachment of former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski for lying about his ties with Odebrecht. But now Fujimori herself has been ensnared by a corruption scandal that has toppled political and businesses leaders around Latin America.
Corruption allegations have hit all of Peru's presidents between 2001 and 2016.
Prosecutors accuse Fujimori of laundering $1.2 million provided by Odebrecht for her 2011 and 2016 presidential campaigns. They opened an investigation into the campaigns after seeing a note written by Marcelo Odebrecht, head of the Brazilian mega-company, on his cellphone that said: "increase Keiko to 500 and pay a visit."
Fujimori denies the accusations and says prosecutors and Peru's election body have received Popular Force's accounting books for inspection.
Her jailing capped a striking downfall for a politician who went from presidential daughter, to powerful opposition leader, to within a hair's breadth of the presidency.
Fujimori's father, a strongman who governed Peru from 1990 to 2000, remains a polarizing figure. Some Peruvians praise him for defeating Maoist Shining Path guerrillas and resurrecting a devastated economy, while others detest him for human rights violations. He is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses and corruption.
She tried to follow in her father's presidential footsteps and forge a gentler, kinder version of the movement known as "Fujimorismo."
She finished second in the 2011 election and five years later lost in a razor-thin vote, coming within less than half a percentage point of defeating Kuczynski.