LIMA, Peru — Two of Peru’s former presidents find themselves behind bars, one convicted of human rights violations, the other accused of illegally trying to dissolve Congress.A third ex-president may soon join that ignominious group with all three sharing the same prison.
Alejandro Toledo, who led Peru two decades ago, surrendered on Friday to law enforcement officials in California, according to a U.S. Marshal official, having exhausted efforts to resist extradition nearly four years after his arrest in connection with one of the biggest corruption scandals in Latin America.
Once he is returned to Peru, Mr. Toledo is expected to be incarcerated while the case against him proceeds. His forced repatriation comes at a fraught moment for Peru, which has been rocked by violence and demonstrations since another former president, Pedro Castillo, was impeached in December after he tried to suspend Congress and rule by decree.
Peru has endured years of political corruption and instability that has resulted in the Andean country being ruled by seven presidents in the last seven years.
Mr. Toledo has been accused of receiving $20 million as part of a vast bribery scandal that ensnared many of the region’s leaders. The scheme centered arounda giant Brazilian construction firm, Odebrecht, which acknowledged in 2016 that it had paid $800 million in bribes to win lucrative contracts across Latin America.
The sprawling corruption case was particularly damaging in Peru. Another former Peruvian president implicated in the scandal, Alan García, shot himself fatally in the head as the authorities tried to arrest him in 2019.
Mr. Toledo’s arrest on Friday marks the culmination of a yearslong effort by local authorities to bring him before Peru’s justice system. Peruvian prosecutors had first sought his extradition from the United States in 2018.
It is a fate Mr. Toledo fought to avoid at every turn, through failed appeals and motions to stay his return, the last of which was denied on Thursday by a federal judge in Washington. A lawyer for Mr. Toledo said his client was in poor health and may not survive pretrial detention.
“Here, too, plaintiff is not entitled to that relief,” the judge, Beryl Howell, wrote in her order Thursday, calling Mr. Toledo’s lawyer’semergency filing a “last-ditch effort” to further delay his extradition.
Mr. Toledo, who had been living in California for years, has denied any wrongdoing. He was first taken into custody in San Francisco in 2019 and released to house arrest in 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is not clear when Mr. Toledo will arrive in Lima, though a lawyer for the former president, Roberto Su, said it would likely happen inthree to four days.
“I’m not running away from justice, but I am asking you to please not kill me in jail,” Mr. Toledo told a Peruvian TV station on Thursday night. “Let us fight with our arguments.”
Mr. Toledo, 77, grew up in a small mountainous town in northern Peru, before moving to California to study economics and education at the University of San Francisco and Stanford University.
Mr. Toledo was elected in 2001 as a centrist candidate and governed during a pivotal moment for Peru. He was the first democratically-elected president following the 10-year authoritarian rule of Alberto Fujimori. His tenure was marked by a “self coup’’ that led to the dissolution of Congress and a brutal campaign against leftist guerrillas.
Mr. Toledo endorsed and expanded the scope of a truth commission tasked with investigating crimes committed during the country’s internal conflict, including during Mr. Fujimori’s administration. He publicly apologized for human rights abuses committed by the military.
Mr. Fujimori was convicted of crimes against humanity involving extrajudicial killings and kidnappings by a military death squad he had created. He was sentenced to 25 years. He and Mr. Castillo are both held in the same prison in Lima, where Mr. Toledo is also expected to be incarcerated.
The arrest of Mr. Castillo, who is accused of rebellion and conspiracy, among other charges, sparked strikes, marches and general unrest throughout the country as protesters called for the immediate resignation of his successor, President Dina Boluarte.
A New York Times investigation found that the country’s police and military fired lethal ammunition at unarmed civilians during protests in the weeks following Mr.Castillo’s ouster.
At least 60 civilians and seven law enforcement officials were killed in the confrontations. Ms. Boluarte and several members of her administration are being investigated by Peruvian prosecutors for their role in the civilian deaths.