Peru's former president Alan Garcia has shot himself in the head to avoid arrest in connection with alleged bribes from Brazilian builder Odebrecht, taking his own life, in the most dramatic turn yet in Latin America's largest graft scandal.
Garcia, a towering and charismatic figure who played a central role in Peruvian politics for more than three decades, died in a hospital at age 69 after shooting himself at his house in Lima when police arrived with a warrant for his arrest.
Garcia's death shocked the Andean country that had watched his transition from a fiery leftist who was elected president at age 36 to a free-market crusader who won a second term in 2006.
A pugnacious politician considered one of Latin America's best orators, Garcia had long been dogged by graft allegations that he brushed off as baseless political smears.
But prosecutors investigating Odebrecht gathered enough evidence to secure a judicial order this week to hold Garcia in pre-trial detention while they prepared charges against him, arguing that he might flee or obstruct their work.
Odebrecht, a family-owned construction conglomerate, spurred probes across Latin America after it admitted publicly in late 2016 that it had secured lucrative contracts in the region by bribing politicians. Former Odebrecht executives are now cooperating with prosecutors as informants.
The investigation in Peru had picked up speed in recent months, with a judge ordering another former president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, to jail before trial in connection with the company last week.
"Others might sell out, not me," Garcia told a local broadcaster in some of his last public comments on Tuesday.
He said in the interview that he was not afraid of the investigation because "I believe in life after death."
After police arrived at Garcia's house to arrest him early on Wednesday, Garcia told them he had to call his lawyer, Interior Minister Carlos Moran said.
"He entered a room and closed the door behind him," Moran told a news conference shortly before Garcia's death was confirmed.
"Within a few minutes, a shot from a firearm was heard and police forcibly entered and found Mr. Garcia sitting with a wound in his head."
Condolences have poured in from regional leaders, including Chile's conservative Sebastian Pinera and Bolivia's leftist Evo Morales.
"APRA never dies!" his supporters chanted to news cameras.
Late last year, Garcia asked Uruguay for political asylum after he was banned from leaving the country while under investigation, calling Vizcarra a "dictator." Uruguay rejected the request.
Vizcarra has made fighting graft the centrepiece of his government.
The attorney general's office announced an internal probe into lead prosecutors on the Odebrecht probe on Wednesday after Garcia's supporters accused them of irregularities.
Vizcarra ordered flags flown at half staff and declared a three-day national period of mourning for Garcia.
Australian Associated Press