By Teresa Cespedes
LIMA (Reuters) – Public prosecutors in Peru have opened a preliminary probe into the country’s former President Alan Garcia as part of a far-reaching inquiry into bribes that Brazilian builder Odebrecht SA has acknowledged distributing to win local contracts, a source in the attorney general’s office said Friday.
Prosecutors are investigating whether Garcia was involved in potential graft in the awarding of a $400 million contract for a metro line in the capital Lima during his second term, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.
Garcia’s representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment but Garcia has previously denied any involvement in Odebrecht’s kickback schemes in Peru, saying he feels “ashamed” that corrupt officials might have been a part of his government.
“If the prosecutor deems it appropriate, I welcome any investigation and I will go to any summons to collaborate,” Garcia said on Twitter after local daily El Comercio reported earlier on Friday that he was under investigation.
In December, Odebrecht admitted publicly that it doled out hundreds of millions in bribes to unnamed authorities across Latin America, including $29 million to win contracts in Peru over a decade-long period spanning three presidencies.
The former head of Odebrecht in Peru, Jorge Barata, is cooperating with prosecutors as a witness and the company has vowed to provide any relevant documents or statements.
A special prosecutor in the justice ministry, Katherine Ampuero, had asked prosecutors in the attorney general’s office to include Garcia in its inquiry into Odebrecht’s bribes, saying evidence exists that could lead to a conviction.
Garcia is a skilled orator and political heavyweight who has governed Peru twice, first in the 1980s as a protectionist and then as a free-market proponent from 2006-2011, when Odebrecht said it bribed a high-level government official in exchange for help winning a $400 million transportation contract.
Garcia’s predecessor, Alejandro Toledo, is wanted in Peru for preventive jailing after prosecutors accused him of taking $20 million in bribes from Odebrecht in exchange for help winning two lucrative highway contracts.
Toledo has denied wrongdoing and refused to turn himself in, saying he has not been given due process. Peru wants the United States, where Toledo is believed to be in California, to arrest and extradite him.
(Reporting by Teresa Cespdes, Writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)