Peru hunts ex-president Toledo over graft claims
Peruvian police launched a manhunt Friday for ex-president Alejandro Toledo, once hailed as an anti-corruption champion, after a judge ordered his arrest over accusations he took $20 million in bribes.
Toledo, who rose from poverty to lead the fight against a graft-stained government in the 1990s -- then served as president from 2001 to 2006 -- was last spotted in Paris.
He remains abroad, but Peruvian authorities do not know where he is. They offered a $30,000 reward for information leading to his capture.
Judge Richard Concepcion ordered an international arrest warrant for him Thursday night, granting prosecutors' request to jail him for 18 months of "preventive custody" pending a full investigation.
Toledo's lawyer, Heriberto Benitez, said he would appeal the decision. He had requested the judge grant only a summons, saying that detaining the former president would infringe on his rights.
Toledo, 70, is accused of taking huge bribes from scandal-plagued Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to ensure the firm won a juicy contract for a highway linking Brazil and Peru.
The case unfolding against him has shocked Peru since reports on the bribes emerged earlier this month.
Investigators raided Toledo's house in Lima on Saturday, carting off documents.
The accusations emerged from the giant scandal in Brazil involving the state oil company there, Petrobras, which was bilked for billions of dollars over the course of a decade by corrupt executives, politicians and contractors -- including Odebrecht.
Among the tell-all plea bargains to come out of the Brazilian investigation was one from Odebrecht's former boss in Peru, Jorge Barata, who said the company gave Toledo's government a $20-million bribe for the highway project.
Barata said the intermediary for the bribe was Toledo's security chief, Israeli national Avraham Dan On, according to investigation documents leaked to the Peruvian press.
The money was allegedly deposited in accounts belonging to a Peruvian-Israeli businessman, Josef Maiman, a friend of Toledo's.
Prosecutors say Toledo received the bribes in 18 payments from 2006 to 2010. They allege the money was then stashed in an offshore company created by Maiman and Toledo's mother-in-law.
- 'Rot in jail' -
Judge Concepcion was damning in his ruling.
"Toledo sold the Interoceanic Highway in return for Odebrecht bribes," he said.
Toledo denies the accusations, branding them political persecution.
But he has struggled to explain where the money came from.
He originally said it was a loan from his French-Belgian wife's mother that came from a compensation she received as a Jewish Holocaust survivor.
But his former vice president, David Waisman -- himself a prominent member of Peru's Jewish community -- said that was untrue.
"Lies just flow out of him," he said, adding a message for his former boss: "If it turns out you're guilty and you go to jail, then rot in there."
'PhD in poverty'
Toledo came to office on a promise to clean up politics after a dirty decade under ex-president Alberto Fujimori, who is today in prison for corruption and human rights violations.
It was the culmination of a remarkable rise from a childhood of destitute poverty.
Toledo was born into a family of indigenous Quechua peasants in the Andes mountains.
The eighth of 16 children, he went to work as a shepherd at a young age. He was still a child when he left home for the port city of Chimbote, where he hawked newspapers and worked as a shoeshine boy.
He excelled in public school and won a scholarship to study in the United States, attending the University of San Francisco then getting a PhD in economics from Stanford.
But even as he rose through the ranks of the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, he often joked he had a "PhD in extreme poverty."
Toledo is not the only former president of Peru caught up in the Odebrecht scandal.
Investigators say the company paid a total of $29 million in bribes there from 2005 to 2014, during the governments of Toledo, Alan Garcia (2006-2011) and Ollanta Humala (2011-2016).