Peru's ex-president arrested in corruption case

Lima (AFP) –


A Peruvian court ordered the arrest on Wednesday of ex-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski at the request of prosecutors investigating the giant Odebrecht corruption scandal that forced him from office a year ago.

Judicial authorities said the 80-year-old former president -- who resigned last year amid the scandal -- would be held for a preliminary period of 10 days "for the alleged crime of money laundering in the Odebrecht case."

The Superior Court on organized crime also authorized prosecutors to conduct a 48-hour search of Kuczynski's home for documents related to the case.

Police arrested the former Wall Street banker at his home in the upmarket Lima suburb of San Isidro shortly afterwards. Following a medical check, they brought him to police headquarters in downtown Lima, where he will be held for the period of his detention.

An outraged Kuczynski said the charges were "ridiculous," adding that he was the victim of political "persecution."

Kuczynski's lawyer Nelson Miranda told reporters he would appeal the court's decision.

Kuczynski, popularly known as PPK, became the first sitting president to resign over the sweeping graft scandal involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht when he stepped down in March 2018.

Odebrecht has acknowledged being at the center of Latin America's biggest graft scandal, handing out more than $750 million in bribes across 12 countries to secure infrastructure contracts.

- Four presidents -

The affair has embroiled four Peruvian presidents, including Kuczynski's predecessors Ollanta Humala, Alan Garcia and Alejandro Toledo, who is facing extradition from the United States, having been charged with taking a $20 million Odebrecht bribe.

Odebrecht has admitted paying at least $29 million in bribes to Peruvian officials since 2004.

"There is a persecution going on here," Kuczynski told Colombia's W Radio before his arrest.

He said he had cooperated fully with prosecutors investigating the case, which has also ensnared opposition leader Keiko Fujimori -- serving a 36-month preventive sentence while investigations into her party finances continue.

"The people at Odebrecht have been very clear that I had nothing do to with these accusations," he said. "Well, I will see what they are trying to tell me now. Nothing else I can say."

Odebrecht last year acknowledged it had paid two firms linked to Kuczynski -- First Capital and Westfield Capital -- nearly $5 million between 2004 and 2012, including a period when he held senior government roles.

A source said prosecutors were seeking documents relating to those dealings.

Odebrecht's Peru chief Jorge Barata, told Peruvian prosecutors in Brazil that his company contributed $300,000 to Kuczynski's 2016 presidential campaign, when he narrowly defeated Fujimori.

He said the money was delivered through Susana de la Puente, currently Lima's ambassador to Britain.

Also arrested on Wednesday were Kuczynski's former secretary Gloria Kisic and personal driver Jose Luis Bernaola.

He is a former economist who, prior to his election in 2016, served as prime minister under Toledo in 2005-06.