MONTEVIDEO – Uruguayan ex-president Jose Mujica said on Thursday that his country and Peru both understand the importance of the right of asylum and that a little patience is needed to assess the asylum request of Peruvian former head of state Alan Garcia.
Garcia entered Uruguay’s embassy in Lima and asked for diplomatic asylum on Saturday, hours after a Peruvian court granted a request from prosecutors to bar him from leaving the country for 18 months as authorities investigate a charge that he took bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
“Believe me that my country could do nothing other than what it did. What happens when Peru’s judiciary sends the information will be a decision made by the Uruguayan courts,” Mujica, who governed from 2010 to 2015, said of the granting of provisional asylum.
The 83-year-old ex-guerrilla fighter, who was imprisoned during Uruguay’s 1973-1985 dictatorship and went on to govern that South American country from 2010-2015, said he could not pass judgment on Garcia because he has no knowledge of his case.
But he added that asylum would not be appropriate if sufficient evidence is provided to support the charges against the ex-head of state, who maintains that he is a victim of political persecution.
Garcia is suspected of accepting money in exchange for helping Odebrecht win a lucrative public works contract during his 2006-2011 administration.
Odebrecht reached a settlement in December 2016 with the United States’ Justice Department in which the company pleaded guilty to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world.
As part of the settlement, Odebrecht has been cooperating with prosecutors in the affected countries to bring corrupt officials to justice.
In the early 1990s, Garcia faced allegations of graft stemming from his turbulent 1985-1990 presidency, when Peru was racked by hyper-inflation and the rise of the Shining Path guerrilla group.
He was granted asylum in Colombia in 1992 after Peru’s then-president, Alberto Fujimori, dissolved the opposition-controlled Congress in a “self-coup.”
Garcia returned to Peru in 2001 after the expiration of the statute of limitations for those charges and went on to win another term as head of state.
Garcia, who had been living in Spain for a number of years, returned to Peru last Thursday for questioning in the case.
Three other Peruvian former presidents, Alejandro Toledo, Ollanta Humala and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, also have been caught up in the Odebrecht probe, along with main opposition leader and two-time presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori.
Fujimori is the daughter of disgraced former head of state Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses and corruption.