A former Peruvian president accused of accepting $20 million in bribes has reportedly boarded a plane to Israel in an attempt to avoid facing charges in Peru, a source in the country’s Interior Ministry told Reuters Saturday.
Alejandro Toledo, who had an international warrant issued for his arrest by a Peruvian judge on Thursday along with a $30,000 reward, booked a seat on a flight to Tel Aviv from San Francisco at 8 p.m. local time Saturday. The flight is scheduled to land in Israel Sunday evening.
The US informed Peru on Saturday that it would not prevent Toledo from boarding the flight, despite the protestations of Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Reuters reported.
Toledo is said to have chosen to flee to Israel as his wife, Eliane Karp, holds Israeli citizenship, and because Israel does not have an extradition agreement with Peru.
Toledo also has a longtime friendship with Israeli businessman Yosef Maiman, who Peruvian prosecutors say acted as a mediator in the bribery scandal and accepted over $10 million in bribes.
Toledo was last seen in Paris for a meeting earlier last week and was most recently said to be hiding in San Francisco, as he is a visiting scholar at Stanford University in nearby Palo Alto.
The former president is accused of taking huge bribes from scandal-plagued Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to give the firm a juicy contract for a highway linking Brazil and Peru.
Toledo, who was president from 2001-2006, has denied the accusations, branding them political persecution.
But he has struggled to explain where the money came from.
“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.
He originally said it was a loan from his French-Belgian wife’s mother that came from compensation she received as a Jewish Holocaust survivor.
But his former vice president, David Waisman — himself a prominent member of Peru’s Jewish community — said that was untrue.
“Lies just flow out of him,” he said, adding a stern message for his former boss: “If it turns out you’re guilty and you go to jail, then rot in there.”
Toledo was once a hero to many in Peru.
He came to office on a promise to clean up politics after a dirty decade under ex-president Alberto Fujimori, who is today in prison for corruption and human rights violations.
Since losing his 2006 re-election bid, he had become something of an elder statesman, lecturing at prominent universities and founding the Global Center for Development and Democracy.
The case has shocked Peru since reports on the bribes emerged earlier this month.
Investigators raided Toledo’s house in Lima on Saturday, carting off documents.
The accusations emerged from the giant scandal in Brazil involving the state oil company there, Petrobras.
In a probe whose fallout is now being felt around Latin America, Brazilian prosecutors discovered Petrobras was bilked for billions of dollars over the course of a decade by corrupt executives, politicians and contractors.
Those contractors included Odebrecht, which turned out to have a secret bribery department that had been paying off politicians throughout Latin America for years.
Among the tell-all plea bargains to come out of the Brazilian investigation was one from Odebrecht’s former boss in Peru, Jorge Barata, who said the company paid Toledo $20 million via an intermediary.
Prosecutors say Toledo received the payoff in 18 installments from 2006 to 2010. They allege the money was then stashed in an offshore company.
Peruvian ex-presidents Alan Garcia (2006-2011) and Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) are also caught up in the scandal.
Investigators say Odebrecht paid a total of $29 million in bribes in Peru from 2005 to 2014.