World

Peru's ex-president dies from self-inflicted shooting amid corruption probe, police say

Peru's former president Alan Garcia fatally shot himself in the head early Wednesday after police arrived at his home in the capital Lima to arrest him in connection with a bribery investigation, a police source said.

Official says Alan Garcia went in a room to call his lawyer, then police heard a gunshot

Former president of Peru Alan Garcia arrives at the prosecutor's office in Lima on Feb. 16, 2017. (Guadalupe Pardo/Reuters)

Peru's former president Alan Garcia fatally shot himself in the head early on Wednesday after police arrived at his home in the capital Lima to arrest him in connection with a bribery investigation, a police source said.

Members of once-powerful Apra party announced the 69-year-old's death to crowds gathered outside of hospital Casimiro Ulloa, where he underwent emergency surgery. Health Minister Zulema Tomas said he suffered three cardiac arrests after being admitted.

"Apra never dies!" his supporters chanted to news cameras as police in riot gear stood by.

President Martin Vizcarra sent out a tweet Wednesday morning confirming the death and expressing condolences to Garcia's family, saying he was saddened. Vizcarra's government ordered flags to be flown at half-mast.

A doctor who spoke to journalists alongside Tomas at the hospital said the bullet entered and left his head.

Local TV channel America broadcast images of Garcia's son, supporters and legislators entering the hospital, where police in riot gear stood by.

"Let's pray to God to give him strength," Erasmo Reyna, Garcia's lawyer, told journalists at the hospital.

Garcia, a skilled orator who has led Peru's once-powerful Apra party for decades, governed Peru as a nationalist from 1985 to 1990, earning criticism over alleged human rights abuses, before remaking himself as a free-market proponent and winning a new five-year term in 2006.

Garcia was one of nine people a judge ordered to be arrested on Wednesday in connection with an investigation into bribes distributed by Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction company that triggered Latin America's biggest graft scandal when it admitted publicly in late 2016 that it had secured lucrative contracts across the region with bribes, including $29 million US spent in Peru.

Supporters of Peruvian ex-president Alan Garcia react outside the Casimiro Ulloa Emergency Hospital in Lima after learning that he died. (Luka Gonzales/AFP/Getty Images)

Garcia was banned from leaving the country while under investigation in the Odebrecht case, while President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was forced to resign in March 2018 after allegations he repeatedly lied about his connections to Odebrecht.

Vizcarra, who had been serving as Peru's ambassador to Canada, succeeded Kuczynski.

Denied wrongdoing

Last year, Garcia asked Uruguay for political asylum after he was banned from leaving the country to keep him from fleeing or obstructing the investigation. Uruguay rejected the request.

He had denied wrongdoing involving Odebrecht, tweeting as recently as Tuesday, and blamed his legal troubles on political persecution.

"Others might sell out, not me," Garcia said on Tuesday, repeating a phrase he has used frequently as his political foes became ensnared in the Odebrecht investigation.

Alan Garcia is shown greeting an enthusiastic supporter at the Lima airport on Jan. 27, 2001 on his return after nearly nine years in exile in Colombia and Europe to launch what would be an unsuccessful presidential campaign. He would win the presidency in the election held five years later. (Reuters)

Interior Minister Carlos Moran said at a news conference that Garcia had told police he needed to call his attorney after they arrived at his home in Lima to arrest him.

"He entered his room and closed the door behind him," Moran said. "Within a few minutes, a shot from a firearm was heard, and police forcibly entered the room and found Mr. Garcia sitting with a wound in his head."

Odebrecht's Peruvian unit formalized an agreement in February with authorities to pay a multimillion-dollar fine to allow it to continue operating in the country in return for providing evidence about officials it bribed.

Road to Brazil

Odebrecht took responsibility for bribes paid in relation to several contracts, including the construction of Lima's Metro while Garcia was in office.

Two other contracts reportedly involved the construction of a road linking Brazil and Peru during the government of former president Alejandro Toledo, between 2001 and 2006.

Toledo, 73, is now in the United States. He was arrested last month for public drunkenness in northern California but released back into the community.

The San Mateo County Sheriff's office said at the time it was aware that Toledo was wanted by Peruvian officials, but added that "the existence of charges in Peru alone does not authorize the subject's arrest in the United States."

Garcia is shown during his first inauguration, on July 26, 1985, in Lima. (AFP/Getty Images)

In Peru, criminal suspects can be ordered to spend up to three years in jail before trial if prosecutors can show they have evidence that likely would lead to a conviction, or that the suspect would likely flee or try to interfere in the investigation.

Ollanta Humala, president from 2011-16, has also been implicated in the Odebrecht case. Humala spent nine months in pre-trial detention in 2017-18, while Kuczynski and two of Kuczynski's aides were arrested last week.

Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of a former president and the leader of the opposition, was detained and questioned late last year about accepting illegal contributions from Odebrecht.

Odebrecht has also been tied to corruption probes involving officials in Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Chile and Mexico.

In exile for years, until 2001

It wasn't the first time Garcia had faced allegations of corruption. He spent nearly nine years in exile in Colombia and Europe prior to launching his political comeback in 2001, which led to a close election loss to Toledo.

In 2006, Garcia defeated Humala.

Garcia's survivors include six adult children.

With files from CBC News

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.