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LATIN AMERICA | 17-04-2019 12:46

Facing arrest, Peru ex-president Alan García shoots himself in head

President Martín Vizcarra said the 69-year-old head of state died Wednesday after undergoing emergency surgery at the José Casimiro Ulloa Hospital in Lima, the capital.

Peru's former president, Alan García, has died after shooting himself in the head at his home on Wednesday as police were about to arrest him in a sprawling corruption case, his lawyer and hospital officials said.

President Martín Vizcarra said the 69-year-old head of state died Wednesday after undergoing emergency surgery at the José Casimiro Ulloa Hospital in Lima, the capital.

Garcia was a populist firebrand who twice ruled Peru and more recently was under investigation related to Latin America's largest graft probe. Prosecutors said they believed the former president received more than US$100,000 from Odebrecht, disguised as a payment to speak at a conference in Brazil.

Garcia professed his innocence and said he was being targeted politically. 

Speaking just hours before his death was confirmed, Peru's Health Minister Zulema Tomás has said Garcia was in a "very critical and very serious" condition after undergoing emergency surgery for "a bullet wound to his head."

She said he had to be resuscitated him three times: "He's had three cardiac arrests."

"He is in a delicate condition and the prognosis is reserved," added the Health Ministry, which said the bullet went straight through Garcia's head.

His death was subsequently confirmed by the presidency.

Arrest attempt

The attempted arrest took place at 6.30am (1130 GMT) local time at García's home in the upmarket Miraflores neighbourhood of Lima.

Police were acting on an arrest warrant for money-laundering that would have allowed García to be held for 10 days, giving authorities time to gather evidence and prevent him from fleeing, the prosecutor's office said.

"This morning there was a regrettable accident: the president took the decision to shoot himself," Erasmo Reyna, García's lawyer, told reporters outside the hospital.

García, who was president from 1985-1990 and again from 2006-2011, is suspected of having taken bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht in return for large-scale public works contracts.

In November he sought refuge in the Uruguayan Embassy after a court ordered him not to leave the country for 18 months. He applied for asylum but following 16 days in the Embassy he left when his request was denied.

García, a social democrat, claimed to be the target of political persecution, an accusation denied by the Presidency.

On Tuesday, García had said he would neither try to flee nor hide again. In recent weeks, he insisted that "there is no statement, evidence or deposit that links me to any crime and even less so with the Odebrecht company or the execution of any of its projects."

Money-laundering and bribes

He is one of four Peruvian ex-presidents embroiled in various corruption scandals – alongside Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (2016-18), Ollanta Humala (2011-16) and Alejandro Toledo (2001-06).

Kuczynski is under a 10-day preliminary detention until April 20, accused of money-laundering. Toledo faces extradition from the United States, having been charged with taking a $20 million Odebrecht bribe.

Odebrecht has admitted paying US$29 million in bribes to Peruvian officials over three administrations.

Some of those payments were allegedly made during García's second term in office to secure a contract to build the Lima metro. Peruvian press reports also claim Garcia received a US$100,000 payment from an illicit Odebrecht fund for giving a speech to Brazilian business leaders in São Paulo in May 2012. Prosecutors allege that García and 21 other officials conspired to enable Dutch company ATM Terminals to win a 2011 concession to operate a terminal at the port of Callao, near Lima.

Another ex-president, Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), is serving a 25-year sentence for crimes against humanity and corruption.

His daughter and opposition leader Keiko Fujimori is being held in pre-trial detention for up to three years, accused of accepting US$1.2 million in illicit party funding from Odebrecht for her 2011 presidential campaign.

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