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Uruguay Rejects Former Peru President's Asylum Request


FILE - Former Peruvian president Alan Garcia talks to the media as he arrives at the National Prosecution office in Lima, Peru, March 27, 2018.

Former Peruvian President Alan Garcia said Monday he would cooperate with prosecutors investigating him for possible corruption after Uruguay turned down his asylum request and forced him to leave the residence of its ambassador to the Andean nation.

In denying Garcia's asylum claim, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez said there was no evidence to support the politician's claim that he is being targeted politically.

"In Peru the three branches of government function freely and autonomously, especially in this case the judicial power," Tabare Vazquez said.

Around the same time that Vazquez announced his decision in Uruguay's capital, a silver-colored sedan left his ambassador's residence in Lima, taking Garcia first to his daughter's home and then to his mansion in the leafy Miraflores neighborhood.

At the home, an aide read a statement in which Garcia vowed to cooperate with prosecutors, saying he had only sought asylum because he had received information that he would be detained despite having never missed several previous judicial citations.

"When I am called to testify I will do so promptly, as I already have been doing, and hoping that rumors of my arbitrary detention are false," the statement said.

Garcia fled to Uruguay's diplomatic mission a little more than two weeks ago after a judge banned him from leaving the country for 18 months as investigators probe allegations he received illegal payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Garcia has argued that he was the victim of false testimony by political enemies who told prosecutors he allegedly took bribes from Odebrecht during the construction of Lima's metro during his 2006-2011 government. He has not been charged.

Odebrecht has at the center of Latin America's biggest corruption scandal since admitting in a 2016 plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that it paid corrupt officials across Latin America nearly $800 million in exchange for major infrastructure contracts.

The scandal has led to the jailing of numerous politicians across the region, especially in Peru, where former President Pedro Pablo Kucyznski was forced to resign for hiding his past work as a consultant to Odebrecht and Garcia, as well as two other former presidents, Ollanta Humala and Alejandro Toledo, are being probed for allegedly taking illegal payments.

Garcia's request for asylum seemed to have garnered little sympathy from Peruvians accustomed to widespread graft by top officials. Barely a half-dozen die-hard loyalists from his APRA party gathered outside his home Monday shouting support, down from just a few dozen when he took refuge in the ambassador's residence.

But it did produce a sharp rebuke from President Martin Vizcarra, who has made tackling corruption the focus of his administration since taking over from Kuczynski and who has worked to provide Uruguay with information to disprove Garcia's claims.

Jose Ugaz, a former prosecutor who led the country's highest-profile criminal probe, against former President Alberto Fujimori, said that Uruguay's denial of Garcia's request would help cement the rule of law in Peru.

"This is a big blow to impunity and corruption," Ugaz, who also served as chairman of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, said in an interview.

Garcia, 69, was a populist firebrand whose erratic first presidency in the 1980s was marked by hyperinflation, rampant corruption and the rise of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.

When he returned to power two decades later he ran a more conservative government, helping usher in a commodities-led investment boom in which Odebrecht played a major role.

This is the second time Garcia has sought to flee to another country amid corruption probes. Following the end of his first government, he spent nine years in exile in neighboring Colombia and then France after his successor, Alberto Fujimori, raided his house and reopened a corruption probe.