2 governor candidates win election in Peru despite drug-related probes

Two gubernatorial candidates under investigation in Peru for drug trafficking-related crimes have won election and two face runoffs after a nationwide vote for mayors, governors and municipal councils, according to unofficial results on Monday.

Hundreds of candidates suspected of ties to drug trafficking were on the ballot Sunday in what authorities called the Andean nation's most violent campaign since 2000.

According to unofficial results compiled by the Ipsos-Apoyo polling firm, the winners included Manuel Gambini, a former coca grower in the Amazon state of Ucayali. As a mayor, Gambini promoted planting of cocoa beans and other alternatives to the crop that yields cocaine, winning praise from the U.S. Agency for International Development and a trip to Miami to showcase his efforts.

But an Aug. 29 judicial order launching an investigation of Gambini says he amassed a fortune and extensive land holdings with a small mayor's salary. Gambini calls the allegations lies propagated by his political foes.

Also victorious was Gilmer Horna in the northern state of Amazonas. The owner of a chain of chicken restaurants, he is under investigation for possible money laundering.

One of every three Peruvian voters lives in a region where candidates were investigation, on trial or previously convicted of drug-related crimes. Peru's state attorney for drug enforcement, Sona Medina, said her office had identified 700 such candidates.

It was too early to say how many won office Sunday. Medina did not release her list, and official electoral results remained incomplete Monday.

Electoral authorities reported more than 100 incidents of election-day violence, including the destruction of ballot boxes, temporary seizures of polling stations, threats to elections officials and destruction of vehicles.

"We haven't had situations of this magnitude in Peru for some time," said Gerardo Tavara, secretary general of the citizen watchdog group Transparencia.

Not since the Shining Path insurgency, which was all but eliminated in the 1990s, has the country seen this level of political murder and death threats, he said. "Hit men are being hired to assassinate candidates."

Two mayoral candidates were slain in gangland-style killings during the campaign, both in cocaine-trafficking corridors, and on Friday, two police officers were shot and killed in an ambush blamed on drug-funded rebels in the Apurimac and Ene river valley, the world's top cocaine-producing region

Peruvian law allows convicted criminals to run for office as long as they have been rehabilitated by court order. More than 1,300 candidates convicted of crimes — including rape and graft — were on Sunday's ballot, and two governors jailed under preventative detention pending possible corruption trials were re-elected, according to unofficial results.

One of the re-elected governors jailed in corruption probes is Gregorio Santos, a foe of expanding Latin America's biggest gold mining project in his home state of Cajamarca. Most locals oppose the project, which is majority-owned by U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corp.

In Peru's capital, former two-time Mayor Luis Castaneda easily defeated the incumbent, Susana Villaran, who finished third, according to the unofficial count.


Investigative researcher Carlos Neyra contributed to this report.