Peruvian prosecutors opened a formal investigation Monday into suspicions that former President Alejandro Toledo took bribes from a Brazilian construction firm at the heart of a major corruption scandal shaking politicians across Latin America.
The move came after police searched Toledo's home in Lima on Saturday.
Authorities in Peru and throughout Latin America have been moving fast to charge officials accused of taking some $800 million in bribes that construction firm Odebrecht acknowledged paying in a plea agreement signed in December with the U.S. Justice Department.
The bribes, used to win business in 12 countries, include some $29 million in Peru for projects built during the administrations of Toledo (2001-2006), Alan Garcia (2006-2011) and Ollanta Humala (2011-2016). So far three officials from Garcia's government have been arrested.
In the case of Toledo, authorities are looking into whether he pocketed some $20 million in exchange for awarding Odebrecht a major highway project stretching from Peru's border with Brazil.
The payments were believed to be made through Toledo's friend, Peruvian-Israeli businessman Josef Maiman, who prosecutors said Monday they are also investigating along with the Odebrecht's former boss in the country, whose testimony triggered the probe.
Prosecutors are expected to appear before a judge in the next 48 hours during which they could request Toledo be arrested.
The former president is believed to be in Paris but has denied any wrongdoing. Although he said he has plans to travel to Stanford University in California, where he is a visiting scholar, he said he would return to Peru as long as he could be assured of a fair trial.
"Say when, how and where and in what bank they've given me $20 million,'' an angry Toledo said in an interview with a local radio station over the weekend.
Toledo failed to win much support in a bid last year to regain the presidency, finishing in eighth place, but the idea that the pro-democracy activist who led street protest which forced strongman Alberto Fujimori's resignation might now be joining his arch-nemesis behind bars has come as a shock to many Peruvians.
"It's a betrayal to the Peruvian people,'' President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who served as Toledo's economy minister and prime minister, said in an interview over the weekend. "It's very sad.''