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Judge OKs extradition of former Peruvian president to face bribery charges

The judge said the case against former Peruvian president Alejandro Manrique Toledo is not “airtight,” but the evidence against him meets the standard for probable cause to be charged with a crime.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — After more than two years of legal battles, a federal judge on Tuesday approved extraditing a former Peruvian president to his home country to face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of charges of bribery and money laundering.

Alejandro Toledo Manrique, who led Peru’s government from 2001 to 2006, is accused of helping a Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht, win a lucrative contract for a major highway project in exchange for $35 million in bribes.

In a 30-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Hixson found inconsistencies in two key witnesses’ stories about Toledo don’t outweigh evidence that bribe money flowed to accounts controlled by Toledo’s formerly close friend and mother-in-law.

“That so much bribe money ended up in the hands of Toledo’s mother-in-law is part of the evidence of probable cause that Odebrecht did bribe him,” Hixson wrote.

Josef Maiman, an Israeli businessman and formerly close friend of Toledo, testified that the former president directed him to launder $35 million in bribe money on Toledo’s behalf. Another witness, former Odebrecht executive Jorge Barata, said he personally delivered cash to Toledo and that when his company fell behind on payments, Toledo pressured him to keep the money flowing.

Toledo argued the witnesses contradicted each other and their own prior statements on several key aspects of the case, including when and where a meeting occurred to set up the bribe, who attended that meeting and at which meeting the exact amount of the bribe was finalized.

Hixson found such inconsistencies are to be expected when two people are recalling events that took place up to a decade ago or more.

“They both agree on what the number was and that it was memorialized in a contract addendum for a fictitious contract related to services in connection with the Interoceanic Highway,” Hixson wrote.

Peruvian prosecutors mapped out a complicated web of financial transactions in which more than $31 million was transferred from Odebrecht to accounts controlled by Maiman. More than $17 million was later sent to a company allegedly controlled by Toledo’s mother-in-law, Eva Fernenbug, who was named CEO of the company Ecoteva. Prosecutors say Fernenbug used those funds to buy two properties — a $3.45 million house and $842,000 office — as investments on Toledo’s behalf.

Toledo maintains that Maiman retained actual control over Ecoteva and its purchases, according to a 2012 agreement between Ecoteva and one of Maiman’s companies. Hixson said that document doesn’t disprove claims that the bribe money was intended to benefit Toledo.

“Just from reading an agreement, you can’t reasonably infer that it was implemented exactly as it was written,” Hixson wrote.

The judge also addressed $500,000 Toledo used to pay off two mortgages. The former president said that money, which came from Ecoteva, was supposed to be a loan from Maiman. But whether Toledo knew he was accepting bribe money when he received the “loan” is a dispute that should be resolved at trial, Hixson concluded.

“Toledo is free to argue at trial that he thought this money was a loan from an old friend, and to cite Maiman’s 2013 recanted testimony to that effect, but that contrary story does not defeat probable cause,” Hixson wrote.

The judge refused to consider evidence submitted by Toledo that purports to show Maiman controlled Ecoteva. That’s because the court can only consider explanatory evidence in an extradition case, not evidence that contradicts the government’s claims.

Hixson noted the case against Toledo is far from “airtight," as multiple inconsistencies exist between two key witnesses’ stories and some of their statements have changed over time. Hixson concluded that a trial, rather than an extradition hearing, is the proper venue to weigh that evidence and the credibility of the witnesses.

“If defense evidence that the court believes is inadmissible were admitted, it would show there are additional fact disputes for trial,” Hixson wrote. “These issues do not defeat probable cause to believe that Toledo committed collusion and money laundering.”

Toledo, who turned 75 in March, has been detained in the San Francisco Bay Area on house arrest — and before the Covid-19 pandemic, in a jail cell — since his July 2019 arrest by U.S. marshals at the request of the Peruvian government.

If Toledo decides to appeal Hixson’s ruling, the extradition fight could drag for another year or longer.

Toledo’s public defender Graham Archer and a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, which is tasked with honoring Peru’s extradition request, declined to comment on the ruling.

Follow Nicholas Iovino on Twitter.

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