August 24, 2019

Former Peru President Arrested in U.S. as Part of Vast Bribery Scandal

Former Peru President Arrested in U.S. as Part of Vast Bribery Scandal


A former Peruvian president wanted in connection with one of the biggest corruption scandals in Latin America was arrested in the United States on Tuesday, according to Peruvian and American officials.

Alejandro Toledo, who led the country in the early 2000s, is wanted in Peru on accusations he received $20 million as part of a bribery scandal that has engulfed the region — and landed many of the country’s former presidents in jail.

The charges are related to Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction giant that admitted in 2016 to paying $800 million in bribes to secure large infrastructure contracts throughout the region. The scandal has been particularly explosive in Peru: One president resigned as a result, while an ex-president committed suicide this year as the police were coming to arrest him on corruption charges.

The United States Marshals Service arrested Mr. Toledo, and he appeared before a federal judge in Northern California, according to a statement from the Justice Department. The American officials had said they were acting on a Peruvian extradition request.

Mr. Toledo, who lives in California, has so far defied orders from his country’s courts to return to Peru and face accusations that he took illegal payments.

An attorney who has represented Mr. Toledo in the United States, Richard Douglas, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Heriberto Benítez, a lawyer for Mr. Toledo in Peru, played down the arrest.

“The U.S. hasn’t approved an extradition,” Mr. Benítez said. “This isn’t them handing over Alejandro Toledo. It’s the beginning of a judicial process in the U.S.”

As Odebrecht engaged in an elaborate graft scheme that guaranteed a steady stream of contracts to build roads, dams and bridges, it emerged as the main construction company in the region, wielding powers as large as some of the government ministries for which it worked.

Mr. Toledo came to office in 2001 and oversaw a period of rapid expansion in which the economy reached 7.5 percent growth. Odebrecht took advantage of the bonanza, securing multiple government deals, including a highway through a region of the Amazon and a potable water system in the country’s northern Ancash Province.

The gains, however, did little to help Mr. Toledo’s popularity, whose approval ratings fell to single digits. He left office in 2006 and eventually resettled in California.



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