Peru’s ex-president Alan Garcia dies after shooting himself amid corruption probe

Alan Garcia, a former president of Peru, died on Wednesday after shooting himself in the head when police attempted to arrest him in connection with a corruption scandal that has gripped Latin America.

Peru’s current president, Martinez Vizcarra, confirmed that the 69-year-old former head of state died after undergoing emergency surgery at the Jose Casimiro Ulloa Hospital in the country’s capital.

"Distraught over the death of ex-President Alan Garcia," Mr Vizcarra said in a statement. "I send my condolences to his family and loved ones."

Mr Garcia’s personal secretary, Ricardo Pineda, told local media that when authorities arrived at his home with an arrest warrant, the former president locked himself into his bedroom and shot himself. 

Mr Garcia was being investigated over alleged bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which is at the centre of Latin America’s biggest corruption scandal after admitting to paying corrupt officials nearly $800 million in exchange for major contracts.

Prosecutors said they believed Mr Garcia received more than $100,000 from Odebrecht, disguised as a payment to speak at a conference in Brazil.

Mr Garcia had denied the allegations against him, claiming they were politically motivated. After he was banned from leaving the country, he unsuccessfully attempted to seek asylum in Uruguay’s embassy in Lima.

On Wednesday morning, the Peruvian authorities approved an initial 10-day detention request for Mr Garcia on suspicion of money laundering, influence peddling and collusion. The order allows officials to hold suspects before formal charges are issued.

The populist firebrand served two terms in office. His erratic first term from 1985 to 1990 was marked by hyperinflation, rampant corruption and the rise of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.

When he returned to power two decades later, Mr Garcia ran a more conservative government, helping usher in a commodities-led investment boom in which Odebrecht played a major supporting role.

It was this second term in office that drew the attention of prosecutors, who claimed Mr Garcia took illegal payments from Odebrecht linked to a metro line building project in the capital. 

Mr Garcia’s lawyer Erasmo Reyna on Wednesday accused authorities of neglecting to provide the former leader with information on why he was being detained or show their official identifications when they showed up to arrest him. "The president, upset over this situation, knowing his absolute innocence … had this terrible accident," he said.

Which countries are linked to the Odebrecht scandal

The construction firm Odebrecht has overseen major infrastructure projects across the world, including Brazil’s 2016 Olympics and 2014 World Cup. But in 2016 it admitted to paying millions to corrupt officials in more than half of the countries in Latin America as part of a plea agreement with the US Justice Department.

The ensuing scandal has already ensnared several high profile politicians across the region, especially in Peru, where almost every living former head of state under investigation.

Just last week another former president, Pedro Pablo Kucyznski, was arrested as part of a money laundering investigation into his ties to the company.

Prosecutors have asked to hold Mr Kuczynski, who was Mr Vizcarra’s predecessor, for up to three years as they gather evidence. 

President Alejandro Toledo, who entered office in the early 2000s, is wanted for extradition from the US while Ollanta Humala, Mr Garcia’s successor, was also detained but later released.

Paying tribute to Mr Garcia, former Mexican president Felipe Calderon said: "With virtues and imperfections, he realized great changes that allowed Peru’s economy to become one of the fastest growing in Latin America and in the world."

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