Peru’s former president Alan Garcia died on Wednesday after shooting himself in the head when police came to arrest him in connection with a corruption investigation.
The 69-year-old died of a “massive brain haemorrhage” and cardiorespiratory arrest about three-and-a-half hours after entering hospital, the Health Ministry said.
The ex-president underwent emergency surgery after police rushed him to hospital.
President Martin Vizcarra’s government decreed three days of mourning, with flags flying at half-mast.
Garcia will be given a funeral with honours corresponding to a president, the national news agency Andina reported. Garcia’s centre-left Aprista party announced a vigil for him at its headquarters on Wednesday.
The judiciary had ordered Garcia to be jailed for 10 days while under investigation in connection with the continent-wide corruption scandal involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
Garcia had denied allegations that he had received 100,000 dollars from the company, which has admitted to paying nearly 800 million dollars in bribes in 12 countries.
When police arrived at Garcia’s Lima home, he said he would call his lawyer and went up to his room, Interior Minister Carlos Moran said at a press conference.
A shot was then heard. Police forced the door open and found Garcia sitting with a wound in his head, according to the minister.
The bullet had gone through the ex-president’s head, and he suffered three cardiac arrests but was revived during surgery, Andina quoted hospital sources as saying.
On November 17, Garcia entered the Uruguayan embassy in Lima. He had to leave after about two weeks when the country refused to grant him political asylum.
A judge had previously prohibited him from leaving Peru for 18 months pending an investigation into allegations of collusion and money laundering in connection with the Odebrecht scandal.
Garcia continually denied wrongdoing. It would be “a great injustice” for him to be detained, he told broadcaster RPP on Tuesday.
However, he denied being worried about his eventual arrest. “It is an ugly situation, being a president is an immense honour and if the fatherland is convinced that I have to pay for something I did, it is the fatherland,” he said.
“I think I have a small place in the history of Peru,” he added.
“Alan Garcia did whatever he could to escape [the judiciary] and took a terrible decision,” legal expert Samuel Fernandez from Chile’s Central University told broadcaster 24 Horas.
A large crowd of Garcia supporters gathered outside the hospital on Wednesday, some of them in tears.
“Distraught by the death of former president Alan Garcia. I’m sending my condolences to his family and loved ones,” Vizcarra tweeted after he was confirmed dead.
Several Latin American governments expressed their condolences for what Chilean President Sebastian Pinera described as Garcia’s “tragic” death, while Ecuador’s former president Rafael Correa criticized the aggressive use of corruption accusations in political power struggles.
“If Alan Garcia was unfairly pursued, his suicide is in reality an assassination. Enough of so much abuse! May his sacrifice serve for an understanding that political fighting has limits. That it should not play with the honour and freedom of people,” he tweeted.
Garcia served as president twice: from 1985 to 1990, and from 2006 to 2011. His first term was marked by economic crisis and conflict with Shining Path guerrillas, but he oversaw strong economic growth during his second term.
He spent nearly nine years living abroad, mostly in Colombia, starting in the early 1990s. He only returned to Peru after the statute of limitations on corruption charges he faced ran out.
Former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who held power between 2016 and 2018, has also been jailed for 10 days over his links with Odebrecht.
The judiciary was on Wednesday due to consider a request from prosecutors to jail him preventively for 36 months. The 80-year-old had been taken to intensive care after his blood pressure soared, Andina reported.
Two other Peruvian ex-presidents are also under investigation in connection with the Odebrecht scandal.
Peru is seeking the extradition of Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) from the United States. Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) was released in May after several months in preventive custody and is awaiting trial.