Former president of Peru Alan García committed suicide April 17 shortly after police arrived at his residence with a warrant for his arrest. Having spent years fighting allegations of corruption, García took his own life upon learning that a judge had ordered his detention while prosecutors brought a case related to the Operation Car Wash (“Lava Jato”) investigation into Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. While the investigation began in Brazil, it has arguably destabilized Peru more than any other country: the case has resulted in the pre-trial detention of two former Peruvian presidents as well as the current leader of the opposition, and a third former president is currently a fugitive wanted on charges related to Odebrecht.
While García avoided being detained as other political leaders were jailed, the fact that police obtained a warrant for his arrest came as no surprise. In 2017, Odebrecht admitted that during García’s presidency, the company paid $1.4 million in bribes in order to secure a contract on a government transportation project in Peru valued at $400 million, and that some of these payments were directed to a “high-level official.” The admission was striking, as it appeared to describe a personal pet project of Garcia’s, the construction of a light rail system in Lima, Peru’s capital. Many suspected that García himself was the high-level official who received the illicit payments, and upon reaching a plea agreement with Odebrecht, Peruvian prosecutors announced that “former presidents” would likely be among those imprisoned for their participation in the scheme.
In late 2018, just hours after defiantly proclaiming his innocence and saying he would remain in Peru to face justice, García entered the residence of the Uruguayan ambassador and asked that Uruguay grant him political asylum. The request was ultimately denied, but it was a sign of García’s increasingly erratic behavior and his worry that he would be charged with corrupt acts if he remained in Peru.
The April 17 warrant for his arrest reveals that García was correct in his assumption that prosecutors were targeting him in their investigation. While his suicide prevents further investigations into him, the Operation Car Wash scandal will continue to roil Peruvian politics. Eight suspects, including two former government ministers, were named along with García on the arrest warrant, and a series of high-profile trials of former officials will likely fuel increased discontent with the political class, opening the door for a dark-horse candidate in the 2021 presidential election.
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