LIMA, Peru – Uruguay has rejected an asylum request by former President Alan Garcia, who sought protection in the country's consulate after a judge retained his passport as part of a corruption probe.
In denying Garcia's asylum claim, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez said there was no evidence to support Garcia's claim that he was being targeted politically.
"In Peru the three branches of government function freely and autonomously, especially in this case the judicial power," Tabare Vazquez said.
Around the same time that Vazquez announced his decision in Uruguay's capital, a silver-colored sedan was seen leaving his ambassador's residence in Lima.
Peru's Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio said that Garcia had abandoned the ambassador's residence and was likely at his home since he faces no arrest order — just a ban on leaving the country for 18 months as investigators probe allegations he received illegal payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
Garcia fled to Uruguay's consulate a little more than two weeks ago, arguing that he was the victim of false testimony by political enemies who told prosecutors he allegedly took bribes from Odebrecht during the construction of Lima's metro during his 2006-2011 government.
Odebrecht has at the center of Latin America's biggest corruption scandal since admitting in a 2016 plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that it paid corrupt officials across Latin America nearly $800 million in exchange for major infrastructure contracts.
The scandal has led to the jailing of numerous politicians across the region, especially in Peru, where former President Pedro Pablo Kucyznski was forced to resign for hiding his past work as a consultant to Odebrecht and Garcia, as well as two other former presidents, Ollanta Humala and Alejandro Toledo, are being probed for allegedly taking illegal payments.
Garcia's request for asylum seemed to have garnered little sympathy from Peruvians accustomed to widespread graft by top officials. Barely a trickle of die-hard supporters from his party had gathered outside the Uruguayan ambassador's residence in the leafy San Isidro neighborhood to express their support.
But it did earn a sharp rebuke from President Martin Vizcarra, who has made tackling corruption the focus of his administration since taking over from Kuczynski and who has worked to provide Uruguay with information to disprove Garcia's claims.
Garcia, 69, was a populist firebrand whose erratic first presidency in the 1980s was marked by hyperinflation, rampant corruption and the rise of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.
When he returned to power two decades later he ran a more conservative government, helping usher in a commodities-led investment boom in which Odebrecht played a major role.
This is the second time Garcia has sought to flee to another country amid corruption probes. Following the end of his first government, he spent nine years in exile in neighboring Colombia and then France after his successor, Alberto Fujimori, raided his house and reopened a corruption probe.
AP Writer Joshua Goodman contributed to this report from Bogota, Colombia