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Peru's president asks Donald Trump to deport ex-leader in bribery probe

Peru has asked US president Donald Trump to deport a former leader suspected of taking bribes in a regional corruption scandal.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's office said the request was made to Mr Trump during a phone conversation between the two.

The White House confirmed the talk, but did not mention Peru's deportation request, saying they discussed the need for a strong economic group as well as the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Venezuela.

Last week a Peruvian court ordered the arrest and detention of ex-president Alejandro Toledo as prosecutors investigate whether he took 20 million dollars (£16m) in payments from the giant Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

Peruvian officials have said they believe Mr Toledo is in San Francisco, where he has been researching a book as a visiting scholar at nearby Stanford University.

News reports said he had intended to fly over the weekend to Israel, where his wife has citizenship, until prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government said he would be denied entry.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said Mr Toledo was not on a flight from San Francisco that landed on Sunday night.

Authorities across Latin America have been moving fast to charge officials accused of taking some 800 million dollars (£640m) in bribes from Odebrecht.

The company acknowledged the bribes when it signed a plea agreement in December with the US Justice Department.

Used to win business in 12 countries, the bribes include 29 million dollars (£23m) paid in Peru for projects built during the administrations of Mr Toledo, from 2001-2006, and two of his successors.

So far, three officials have been arrested.

Mr Toledo, a former pro-democracy activist who led street protests that brought down former strongman Alberto Fujimori in 2000, is accused of receiving the 20 million dollars from Odebrecht in exchange for favouring the company in a contract to build a major highway from Brazil to Peru's Pacific coast.

In a nationally-televised address on Sunday night, Mr Kuczysnki called on Mr Toledo to return immediately to Peru to clarify his legal situation.

Earlier, Mr Kuczynski thanked Israel's government for its support in a letter to Mr Netanyahu.

The White House said Mr Trump expressed concerns about developments in Venezuela.

Mr Kuczysnki, a 78-year-old former Wall Street banker, has spearheaded calls among Latin American leaders to punish Venezuela's socialist government for allegedly breaking with the nation's democratic order.

He has seen his approval ratings fall as a result of a number of ethical slips by members of his cabinet, though none of those cases are tied to Odebrecht.

In his address, he announced executive measures meant to strengthen Peru's fight against corruption, including a bigger budget for prosecutors as well as rewards and protections for whistleblowers and a ban for life on contracting with the state for companies that engage in corruption.

"We have to act relentlessly and immediately to stop the rot of corruption in Peru," the president said.

Mr Kuczynski's calls for zero tolerance for corruption comes as prosecutors in the Odebrecht case want to speak to the president himself.

As Mr Toledo's prime minister in 2006, Mr Kuczynski signed a law passed by congress allowing Odebrecht to participate in an auction to build two highways despite a ban on it bidding for government contracts at the time because it was facing legal action for irregularities in another project.

Odebrecht was eventually awarded the roads contract.

Mr Kuczynski has denied any wrongdoing.

AP

In a posting on his Twitter account later, Mr Toledo denied that he was a fugitive, saying: "I have never run away."

But he did not say where he was, nor if he would return to Peru.

AP

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