Peru's ex-president Garcia kills himself to avoid arrest

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Lima: Peru's former  president Alan Garcia shot himself in the head on Wednesday to avoid arrest in connection with alleged  bribes  from Brazilian builder Odebrecht, taking his own life, in the most dramatic turn yet in Latin America's largest graft scandal.

Garcia, a towering and charismatic gure who played  a central role in Peruvian politics for more than three decades, died in a hospital at age 69 after shooting himself at his house in Lima when police arrived  with a warrant for his arrest.

 
Garcia's  death shocked the Andean country that had watched his transition from a   ery leftist who was elected president at age 36 to a free-market crusader who won a second term in 2006.

A pugnacious politician considered one of Latin America's best orators, Garcia had long been dogged  by graft allegations that he brushed off as baseless political smears.

But prosecutors investigating Odebrecht gathered enough evidence to secure  a judicial  order  this week to hold Garcia in pre-trial detention while they prepared charges against him, arguing that he might   ee or obstruct their work. 

secured lucrative contracts in the region  by bribing  politicians. Former Odebrecht executives are now cooperating with prosecutors as informants.

The investigation in Peru had picked up speed  in recent months, with a judge ordering another former  president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski,  to jail before  trial in connection with the company last week.
 

The scandal had already touched the highest levels of Peru's ruling political class. Ex-President Alejandro Toledo is   ghting extradition from the United States after a Peruvian judge ordered him jailed in
2017, while another former  leader, Ollanta Humala, spent nine  months in pre-trial detention before  he was released last year on appeal.

"Others might sell out, not me," Garcia told a local broadcaster in some of his last public comments on Tuesday, repeating a phrase he used frequently as his political rivals became ensnared in the scandal in recent years.

He said in the interview that he was not afraid of the investigation because "I believe  in life after death."

A closed door,  a shot  heard After police arrived  at Garcia's  house to arrest him early on Wednesday, Garcia told them he had to call his attorney, Interior Minister Carlos Moran said.

"He entered a room and closed the door behind him," Moran told a news conference shortly before  Garcia's  death was con   rmed.  "Within a Garcia's  supporters prepared for a wake at the headquarters of his once- powerful party APRA as condolences poured in from regional leaders, including Chile's conservative Sebastian Pinera and Bolivia's leftist Evo Morales.

"APRA never  dies!" his supporters chanted to news cameras.


Garcia's  death will likely throw cold water on the Odebrecht probe  in Peru. It may also deepen the divide between centrist President Martin Vizcarra  and the rightwing opposition that controls Congress, where Garcia had in  uential allies.

Late last year, Garcia asked Uruguay for political asylum  after he was banned from leaving  the country while under investigation, calling Vizcarra  a "dictator." Uruguay rejected the request.

Some of Garcia's  supporters called his suicide  a heroic  act.

"Garcia made a decision as a free man.  It was a decision of dignity and honour," Mauricio  Mulder,  an APRA lawmaker, said in broadcast comments.

Vizcarra  took of  ce a year ago to replace Kuczynski after he resigned in a graft scandal, and has made    ghting graft the centrepiece of his government. He has said he does not interfere in the constitutionally independent prosecutors' office.

But criticism of the use of pre-trial detention in the Odebrecht probe has grown following  several  high-pro  le arrests in recent years. 

likely lead to a conviction and the suspects would likely flee or obstruct their work if free.

The attorney general's of  ce announced an internal probe  into lead prosecutors on the Odebrecht probe  on Wednesday after Garcia's supporters accused them of irregularities.

Vizcarra  ordered   ags   own at half staff and declared a three-day national period  of mourning for Garcia. Garcia's  family members opted to break with protocol and not have Vizcarra  or a government representative preside over his funeral, local media  said.

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