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Geneva (AFP) - A former first lady of Peru who is facing money-laundering charges will receive immunity through her new posting with a United Nations agency in Geneva, the UN said Friday.
"Privileges and immunities (are) extended to staff of all UN agencies, and staff members of specialised agencies in the exercise of their functions," UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci said in a statement.
She was reacting to questions about the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)'s appointment of Nadine Heredia to head its liaison office in Geneva, where the UN has its European headquarters.
The appointment sparked outrage in Peru, where Heredia is accused along with her husband, former president Ollanta Humala, of laundering $1.5 million allegedly given to fund his 2006 and 2011 presidential campaigns.
Peru's foreign ministry said Tuesday it had complained to the FAO's representative in Peru "against a decision that could be interpreted as interference in a judicial investigation in Peru".
Heredia had been forbidden to leave Peru while the courts investigated, but a judge recently lifted the travel ban against her.
Humala, who left office in July after his term ended, was ordered not to leave the country as of last week.
Prosecutors believe the laundered funds came from the government of Venezuela's then-president Hugo Chavez and two large construction firms in Brazil.
If found guilty, the couple could face between eight and 10 years prison.
Vellucci, who refused to comment on FAO's choice of staff, explained that immunity and privileges are granted to officials of specialised agencies in Geneva under a special agreement between the UN and Switzerland.
Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger told AFP that such immunity shields high-level UN officials from arrest, detention and any criminal, civil or administrative prosecution.
If authorities wish to bring charges against such a person, they must first go through diplomatic channels to request that their employer lift their immunity, he said in an email.
"If Switzerland were to receive a request for mutual judicial assistance from Peru, or a request for an arrest to be carried out with the aim of extradition, the foreign ministry would ask the UN to lift the immunity of the person in question," he explained.