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Former Peruvian president considered a flight risk to Israel

  • JTAPeruvianPresident
(JTA) A former Peruvian president living in the Bay Area and facing bribery charges in his home country has been denied bail by a federal judge in San Francisco out of fear he will flee – to Israel.
by GABE STUTMAN | Aug 01, 2019

Alejandro Toledo, who led Peru from 2001 to 2006, is wanted on corruption charges after prosecutors say he took $20 million (R284.2 million) from Odebrecht, a Latin American construction conglomerate.

United States marshals arrested Toledo, 73, at his Los Altos Hills home on 16 July in response to an extradition request. At a bail hearing on 19 July, a US attorney argued that Toledo should be denied bail because of the significant risk that he would flee the country. Toledo’s wife, French-born anthropologist Eliane Karp, earned a degree at Hebrew University and has Israeli citizenship – and Israel doesn’t have an active extradition agreement with Peru.

“Mr Toledo has a history of extensive foreign travel and ties outside the US,” Elise LaPunzina, assistant US attorney, said in court according to an audio recording of the hearing. Those ties might “facilitate [Toledo’s] travel to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty to Peru. Notably Israel”.

LaPunzina said the FBI found $40 000 (R567 482) in a suitcase at the time of Toledo’s arrest, indicating to Judge Thomas Hixson that the former politician “is potentially mobile”.

The Odebrecht bribery case, one of the largest political corruption scandals in history, has spanned continents, implicating leaders from Mexico to Mozambique, including a third of Brazil’s government ministers under former President Michel Temer. Jorge Glas, the former vice-president of Ecuador, was sentenced to six years in jail, and former Peruvian President Alan Garcia committed suicide when prosecutors and police arrived at his home on 17 April to arrest him.

Toledo has close ties to the Bay Area. He came to the University of San Francisco on a partial soccer scholarship in the 1960s, studying economics and going on to earn a PhD from Stanford University. Over the past 25 years, he’s spent “at least half” of his time living in the Bay Area, his attorney said, and as recently as 2018, served as an “alumni scholar” at Stanford. The university said his position was unpaid, and didn’t involve teaching.

Toledo is known as the first Peruvian president of indigenous descent, and was credited with boosting his country’s gross domestic product. He’s written a number of books, including The Shared Society: A Vision for the Global Future of Latin America, published in 2015.

Citing the extraordinary circumstances of the case, and his belief that Toledo does indeed pose a flight risk, Hixson denied bail pending the next hearing, which will be on 7 August. Hixson is a magistrate judge of the US District Court in California’s Northern District.

“The defendant is not an alleged common criminal, but a political figure, and it’s important diplomatically for us to show that we’ve complied in our treaty obligations to Peru,” he said in court. “If the defendant were to flee, this would be a diplomatically significant failure of the US to live up to its obligations to Peru.”

Peru’s current President Martin Vizcarra was preceded by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who had a German Jewish father who fled Nazi Europe. Kuczynski resigned last year after the release of videos showing some of his allies trying to buy the support of opposition legislators.

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