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Friday, 24 May 2019

Peru's ex-President Alan Garcia shoots himself before arrest

AP , Wednesday 17 Apr 2019
Alan Garcia
Former Peruvian President Alan Garcia (Photo: Reuters)
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Former Peruvian President Alan Garcia underwent emergency surgery Wednesday after shooting himself in the head as police attempted to detain him amid corruption allegations in Latin America's largest graft probe.

Health Minister Zulema Tomas said doctors provided cardiac resuscitation three times and were proceeding to operate on the 69-year-old former head of state at the Jose Casimiro Ulloa Hospital in Peru's capital city of Lima.

``The situation is very critical,'' Tomas said. ``It's grave.''

Local television program `Hablemos Claro' reported that when police arrived to Garcia's residence to arrest him, the ex-president shut himself in his room and attempted to take his life.

Peru's Health Ministry said Garcia was sent to Jose Casimiro Ulloa Hospital at 6:45 a.m. local time.

``At this moment, the patient has been in an operating room at said hospital since 7:10 a.m.,'' the ministry said.

Outside the hospital, Peruvians gathered outside waiting for more information from doctors and officials.

The stunning turn of events comes four months after Garcia tried to seek asylum in Uruguay as prosecutors in Peru investigate allegations he illegally took payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Garcia has professed his innocence and argued that he is the victim of false testimony by political enemies.

His lawyer, Erasmo Reyna, said outside the hospital he would seek justice for his client.

``We pray to God to give him strength,'' he said amidst a crush of reporters. ``We will do everything in our power to revert this unjust situation.''

Peru is in the throes of a political reckoning in which all but one living former head of state is being investigated for corruption tied to the Odebrecht corruption scandal. The nation has gone further than any other country outside Brazil in prosecuting politicians.

Odebrecht admitted in a 2016 plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that it paid nearly $800 million throughout Latin America in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.

Just last week, former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was also detained for alleged money laundering tied to the probe. Congressional allies said he was taken Tuesday night to a local clinic with high blood pressure.

On Wednesday, Alberto Quintanilla, a congressman from the left-leaning political party Nuevo Peru, expressed solidarity with the family of Garcia.

``Hopefully he recuperates his health soon,'' he said.

He also said that he hoped recent events ``in the last few days (carried out) on behalf of the public ministry and judicial authorities would advance knowledge of the truth'' and that due process was respected.

Garcia was a populist firebrand whose erratic first presidency in the 1980s was marked by hyperinflation, rampant corruption and the rise of the Shining Path guerrilla movement. When he returned to power two decades later he ran a more conservative government, helping usher in a commodities-led investment boom in which Odebrecht played a major supporting role.

He sought asylum in Uruguay's embassy in Peru late last year, remaining there for a little more than two weeks before having his request denied.

In rejecting his claim, the South American nation's embassy said there was no evidence to support Garcia's contention that he was being targeted politically.

``In Peru, the three branches of government function freely and autonomously, especially in the case of judicial power,'' Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez said.

Garcia had returned to his mansion in the leafy Miraflores neighborhood vowing to cooperate with prosecutors as they continued their investigation.

A judicial order obtained by The Associated Press shows Judge Juan Sanchez ordered authorities to arrest Garcia and search for documents in his home related to money laundering allegations. Prosecutors suspect the former president received more than $100,000 from Odebrecht, disguised as a payment to speak at a conference in Brazil.

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