Peru's fat hangover: Garcia denies police killings

AP News
Posted: Dec 04, 2009 5:57 PM

Peruvian President Alan Garcia denied Thursday that his government invented a tale about murderous fat-thieves to distract from allegations of police death squad killings, saying the claim was fundamentally true even if it became exaggerated.

Garcia also rejected a recent magazine report alleging that police carried out the dirty war on crime in the northern town of Trujillo, purportedly killing 46 suspects in 2007 and 2008.

"My government is a democratic government with strict and scrupulous respect for the law. In Peru there has not been, there is not and there never will be any death squad that kills assassins or eliminates criminals," Garcia told reporters.

Investigators shocked Peruvians last month when they announced the arrest of three members of a gang they said killed as many as 60 people this year to sell their liquified fat. Police branded the alleged ring the "Pishtacos," after a mythical Andean figure that killed travelers to steal their fat.

The national police chief later dismissed the head of his investigations unit amid doubts over the story's veracity _ as well as suggestions that police and Interior Minister Octavio Salazar may have made up the story to squash the Trujillo death squad article, published three days before the story broke.

Spanish newspaper El Mundo has reported that prosecutors are backing police claims that yellow fluid seized from the suspects is indeed human fat, according to lab analysis. Prosecutor Jorge Sanz said the suspects are now believed to have sold the fat to traditional healers, instead of European cosmetic companies as previously alleged.

"Pishtacos or not, what we have here is murder for profit," Sanz was quoted as saying. He did not return phone calls seeking more information.

On Friday, Garcia defended his police and their fat-stealing theory.

"I insist that there was a grain of truth at the beginning of the whole thing. At least that's what the prosecutor says," Garcia told reporters.