LIMA, Peru (AP) — Former Peruvian President Alan García underwent emergency surgery Wednesday after shooting himself in the head as police attempted to detain him amid corruption allegations in Latin America’s largest graft probe.
Health Minister Zulema Tomás said doctors provided cardiac resuscitation three times and were proceeding to operate on the 69-year-old former head of state at the José Casimiro Ulloa Hospital in Peru’s capital city of Lima.
“The situation is very critical,” Tomás said. “It’s grave.”
Local television program ‘Hablemos Claro’ reported that when police arrived to García’s residence to arrest him, the ex-president shut himself in his room and attempted to take his life.
Peru’s Health Ministry said García was sent to the hospital at 6:45 a.m. local time.
“At this moment, the patient has been in an operating room at said hospital since 7:10 a.m.,” the ministry said.
The stunning turn of events comes four months after García tried to seek asylum in Uruguay as prosecutors in Peru investigate allegations he illegally took payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. García has professed his innocence and argued that he is the victim of false testimony by political enemies.
His lawyer, Erasmo Reyna, said outside the hospital he would seek justice for his client.
“We pray to God to give him strength,” he said amid a crush of reporters. “We will do everything in our power to revert this unjust situation.”
Nearby, Peruvians gathered to wait for more information from doctors and officials amid a wave of questions about the political consequences the Odebrecht investigation could still have on a nation in the throes of a political reckoning.
In Peru, all but one living former head of state is being investigated for corruption tied to the Odebrecht corruption scandal. The nation has gone further than any other country outside Brazil in prosecuting politicians.
Odebrecht admitted in a 2016 plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that it paid nearly $800 million throughout Latin America in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.
Just last week, former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was also detained for alleged money laundering tied to the probe. Congressional allies said he was taken Tuesday night to a local clinic with high blood pressure.
On Wednesday, Alberto Quintanilla, a congressman from the left-leaning political party Nuevo Peru, expressed solidarity with the family of García and said that he hoped officials “would advance knowledge of the truth” through their investigations, but also respect due process.
García 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 supporting role.
He sought asylum in Uruguay’s embassy in Peru late last year, remaining there for a little more than two weeks before having his request denied.
In rejecting his claim, the South American nation’s embassy said there was no evidence to support García’s contention that he was being targeted politically.
“In Peru, the three branches of government function freely and autonomously, especially in the case of judicial power,” Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez said.
García had returned to his mansion in the leafy Miraflores neighborhood vowing to cooperate with prosecutors as they continued their investigation.
A judicial order obtained by The Associated Press shows Judge Juan Sanchez ordered authorities to arrest García and search for documents in his home related to money laundering allegations.
Prosecutors suspect the former president received more than $100,000 from Odebrecht, disguised as a payment to speak at a conference in Brazil.