LIMA – Former President Alan Garcia, who is under investigation in a major corruption case, has asked Uruguay for political asylum, the Peruvian foreign ministry said Sunday.
Uruguayan Ambassador Carlos Alejandro Barros notified the Peruvian government that Garcia came to the embassy in Lima Saturday night to request asylum, the ministry said in a statement.
Hours earlier, a court granted a request from prosecutors to bar Garcia from leaving the country for 18 months as authorities investigate a charge that he took bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht in exchange for helping the firm win a lucrative public works contract during his 2006-2011 administration.
Garcia, who has been living in Spain for a number of years, returned to Peru last Thursday for questioning in the case.
Odebrecht reached a settlement in December 2016 with the US Justice Department in which the firm pleaded guilty to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world.
As part of the settlement, Odebrecht has been cooperating with prosecutors in the affected countries to bring corrupt officials to justice.
Judge Juan Carlos Sanchez Balbuena ruled Saturday that documents handed over by Odebrecht provided “sufficient elements” to support the accusations against Garcia.
Odebrecht executive Carlos Nostre told Peruvian prosecutors that the company paid up to $24 million to secure the contract to build Lima Metro’s Line 1 during Garcia’s presidency.
Three other former presidents, Alejandro Toledo, Ollanta Humala and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, have also been caught up in the Odebrecht probe, along with main opposition leader and two-time presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, daughter of disgraced former head of state Alberto Fujimori.
The current president, Martin Vizcarra, referred to that circumstance Sunday in a comment on Garcia’s bid for asylum in Uruguay.
Garcia’s claims that the actions of prosecutors are politically motivated echo those of all the other senior politicians are implicated in the scandal, Vizcarra noted.
“Political persecution does not exist in Peru, and all Peruvians must submit to justice, without exceptions,” Vizcarra said on Twitter, adding that his administration was committed to “unqualified support for the separation of powers, the constitution and international treaties.”
Prosecutors had reason to fear that Garcia might flee the jurisdiction because he has done so in the past, leaving Peru in 1992 to avoid prosecution for graft during his first term as president, in 1985-1990.
Garcia came home in 2001, after the expiration of the statute of limitations for those charges, and went on to win another term as president.