Peruvian ex-president Alan Garcia commits suicide to avoid punishment

Alan Garcia
Alan Garcia

Peru's former president Alan Garcia died in a hospital inLima on Wednesday, hours after shooting himself in the head to avoid arrest inconnection with a bribery probe, authorities said on Wednesday.

Garcia, who had six adult children, was 69.

A skilled orator elected president twice, first as afirebrand leftist and then as a champion of foreign investment and free trade,Garcia had been dogged by allegations of corruption in recent years that he hadrepeatedly denied.

Garcia was one of nine people a judge had ordered to bearrested on Wednesday for alleged involvement in bribes distributed byOdebrecht, a Brazilian construction company that triggered Latin America'sbiggest graft scandal when it admitted in 2016 that it had paid kickbacks topoliticians across the region to secure lucrative contracts.

While three former presidents in Peru have also been orderedto jail in connection with Odebrecht, Garcia had blamed his legal troubles onpolitical persecution, accusing President Martin Vizcarra without evidence oftrying to silence him.

"Others might sell out, not me," Garcia said insome of his last broadcast comments on Tuesday, repeating a phrase he has usedfrequently as his political foes became ensnared in the Odebrechtinvestigation.

Members of his once-powerful Apra party announced his deathto crowds gathered outside of hospital Casimiro Ulloa, where he suffered threecardiac arrests and underwent emergency surgery.

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

Vizcarra's government ordered flags to be flown at halfmast. "I'm dismayed by the death of former president Alan Garcia,"Vizcarra said on Twitter. "I send my condolences to his family and lovedones."

'Shot From A Firearm Heard'

Garcia's death shocked the Andean country that had watched him become one of the world's youngest presidents when elected at 36 in 1985, a term that was marked by a severe economic crisis and the rise of leftist rebel groups.

He was elected to another five-year term in 2006 after remaking himself as a free-market proponent.

Interior Minister Carlos Moran said at a news conferenceshortly before Garcia died that the former president had told police he neededto call his attorney after they arrived at his home to arrest him.

"He entered his room and closed the door behindhim," Moran said. "Within a few minutes, a shot from a firearm washeard, and police forcibly entered the room and found Mr. Garcia sitting with awound in his head."

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

Alan Garcia would have been the third former president in Peru to have been jailed in the Odebrecht case.

Ollanta Humala spent nine months in pre-trial detention in 2017-2018 and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was arrested without charges last week.

A fourth former president, Alejandro Toledo, is fightingextradition from California after a judge inPeru ordered him jailed for 18months in connection with Odebrecht in 2017.

All have denied wrongdoing in connection with Odebrecht.

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

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera lamented Garcia's death."I interacted with him a lot, not just when we both were presidents, butbefore and afterwards," Pinera said on Twitter. "May God take hissoul."

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