HAT-TRICK

Latin American government cronyism, as told through emails leaked by Peruvian hackers

It’s no secret that corruption runs rampant in many Latin American countries. But Peruvian hackers wanted the public to know just how egregious the region’s back-patting can be. So they broke into sensitive government, police and military networks in at least five South American nations, exposing corruption and government cronyism along the way. And they may have just completed their most audacious effort yet, prompting the near turnover of Peru’s government.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the group responsible for breaking into the Peruvian cabinet’s network early last month is called LulzSecPeru (the name comes from the famed U.S. and U.K-based LulzSec “black hat” hacker collective). The hackers dumped online email exchanges between top cabinet ministers and industry lobbyists, exposing corruption at the highest levels of government.

In one of the emails (link in Spanish), a board member and lawyer for a major Peruvian fishing company asked the finance minister if the country’s fishing season could be extended, so the company could meet its quota; her wish was granted.

In another, the country’s energy minister, Eleodoro Mayorga, dismissed (link in Spanish) accusations made by environmental minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal over Mayorga’s cozy relationship with an Australian oil company, which was seeking concessions in a deal with environmental regulators. Mayorga argued that oil companies, not regulators, had more technical expertise to assess the environmental impact of their operations.

The revelations led to a “no confidence” vote (link in Spanish) in Congress on Aug. 26, which came within one vote of forcing out the entire cabinet. The same group had already leaked thousands of incriminating emails from prime minister René Cornejo’s email account, leading to his resignation in July. Those emails revealed incriminating lobbying behavior considered off-limits for a public servant.

The hackers, who describe themselves to the press as two young men, have promised more revelations inside and outside Peru in the coming months. Each time the group hacks into a network, it leaves behind a photo with the message “Hacked by LulzSecPeru.”

If caught, their punishment could be severe. Under Peru’s cyber crimes law (link in Spanish), hackers are classified as “cyber pirates” and can face up to eight years in prison for their attacks.

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