The government of Peru is seeking the detention of the country’s former president on charges related to an expansive bribery case that has implicated a number of political and economic elites throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
Peruvian authorities are offering a reward of around $30,000 for information leading to the arrest of Alejandro Toledo, who served as Peru’s president from 2001 to 2006. Toledo is wanted on charges that he accepted some $20 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht in exchange for helping the company win a bid for a major highway construction project under his administration, La República reported.
Several other officials have also been implicated in the suspected graft, including current Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuzcynski, who was serving as economy and finance minister when the contract was approved.
A Peruvian judge has ordered that if Toledo is arrested and returned to Peru, he would be held for 18 months in preventative detention as the trial against him proceeds.
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Toledo’s current whereabouts are unclear, but Peruvian Interior Minister Carlos Basombrío said on state television that he believes there is a “90 percent probability that ex-President Toledo is in San Francisco,” the California city near Stanford University, where Toledo has recently worked as a consulting professor. (Toledo’s biographical information appears to have been removed from Stanford’s website sometime since December 29, 2016. InSight Crime reached out to Stanford for comment on whether or not Toledo is still affiliated with the university, but did not receive an immediate response.)
The state news service Andina reported that Kuzcynski spoke with US President Donald Trump by phone to ask him to assist with locating and deporting Toledo. Basombrío has stated that Peruvian authorities have been working with their US counterparts on the matter.
Toledo has issued statements denying any wrongdoing and disputing the government’s characterization of him as a fugitive. The former president has also described the charges against him as “politically motivated.”
Odebrecht publicly admitted in December 2016 that since 2001 it had paid more than $780 million through a so-called “Department of Bribery” in order to illegally obtain public works contracts in a dozen countries, including $30.4 million in bribes in Peru. (See InSight Crime’s graphic below)
InSight Crime Analysis
Former President Toledo’s alleged involvement in the Odebrecht bribery scheme makes him perhaps the most prominent Latin American elite tied to the case thus far. But he is far from the only one.
Suspicions have also swirled around Toledo’s successor as president, Alan García, whose administration awarded Odebrecht a construction contract for the subway system in the capital city of Lima that prosecutors say was the result of $8 million in bribes the company paid to various officials. Like Toledo, García has denied wrongdoing.
García’s successor, Ollanta Humala, has also been linked to the Odebrecht scandal. Media reports have indicated that the Brazilian construction firm may have provided some $3 million in campaign funding to Humala through his wife Nadine Heredia.
The list of elites outside of Peru who have been linked to the massive bribery scheme continues to grow, but it already contains some high-profile figures, including Argentina’s intelligence chief, two sons of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and Guatemala’s ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who is currently jailed on separate corruption charges. None of these individuals have admitted to or been convicted of taking bribes from Odebrecht.
The Odebrecht scandal has also implicated a number of Brazilian politicians, including current President Michel Temer. Dozens of Odebrecht executives have admitted to the illegal activity and provided testimony against other suspects in the scheme in exchange for sentencing leniency. Those testimonies, which may soon be made public, have been described as a “bomb” whose detonation could potentially land some of Brazil’s most powerful politicians in prison.
Despite Odebrecht’s public admission of guilt and its promise to pay billions of dollars in fines for its illegal behavior, many countries affected by the bribe scheme are now only in the initial stages of investigating and attempting to prosecute the individual elites who allegedly received the illicit payments.
Nevertheless, the facts of the Odebrecht scandal that have emerged thus far are remarkable in that they illustrate how a criminal network operating within one of Latin America’s largest companies was apparently able to corrupt numerous high-level officials across the region over a period of more than a decade. If and when more details of the case are revealed, it is likely that other top politicians will be ensnared.