LIMA, Peru (AP) — A Peruvian judge on Thursday ordered the arrest of former President Alejandro Toledo on suspicion of taking bribes from a Brazilian construction company at the heart of a region-wide corruption scandal.
Judge Richard Concepcion accepted prosecutors' request Toledo be jailed for up to 18 months as they investigate allegations he received $20 million in bribes from Odebrecht in exchange for permission to build a highway connecting Brazil with the Peruvian coast.
Toledo, who was president from 2001-2006, has denied any wrongdoing. He is believed to be abroad. He was in Paris for a meeting earlier in the week and is a visiting scholar at Stanford University in California.
The judge said a red alert had been sent to the international police agency Interpol for his arrest "wherever he is."
"Even though he has been president, he must be subject to the law," said Concepcion, adding that there is "a high degree of probability" he was involved in money laundering and influence peddling, including "selling the (highway) work) in exchange for a sum of money."
Police searched Toledo's home in Lima on Saturday. The 70-year-old former president has said 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.
If Toledo is jailed in Peru, he would join Alberto Fujimori as the country's second former president behind bars.
Odebrecht has admitted to paying almost $800 million in bribes to governments across Latin America as part of a December plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department. In Peru, they acknowledged paying $29 million for projects built during the government of Toledo and two successors.
The alleged payments were believed to have been made through Toledo's friend, Peruvian-Israeli businessman Josef Maiman, who prosecutors say they are also investigating along with the Odebrecht's former boss in the country, whose testimony triggered the probe.
Authorities throughout Latin America have been moving fast to charge officials accused of taking bribes from Odebrecht, but Toledo is the first ex-president to face an arrest warrant.
Toledo's lawyer, Heriberto Benitez, said he would appeal the decision and denounce the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Benitez had told the judge the preventative arrest order against his client wasn't merited because of the "guarantee that he will present himself for the legal process."