Citing pandemic, judge agrees to free ex-Peru leader on bail
Publish- March 20, 2020, 09:11 AM
AP/UNB - AP/UNB
Update- March 20, 2020, 09:13 AM
In this file photo, former President of Peru Alejandro Toledo attends the New Economy Forum Globalization in New York.AP Photo
The coronavirus pandemic has provided a silver lining for a former Peruvian president who has been in U.S. custody while he fights extradition back home to face trial on corruption charges.
A U.S. judge ruled Thursday that Alejandro Toledo should be released on $1 million bail because the pandemic has reduced his flight risk.
"The court's concern was that Toledo would flee the country," Magistrate Judge Thomas S. Hixson wrote in his decision. "But international travel is hard now."
The judge had previously denied Toledo bail after prosecutors pointed out that officials found a suitcase with $40,000 in cash when he was arrested.
But noting that Toledo is 74, Hixson agreed the virus could present a risk of serious illness or death.
"The risk that this vulnerable person will contract COVID-19 while in jail is a special circumstance that warrants bail," Hixson ruled.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, like a fever and cough. But it can cause more severe illness for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems.
The judge added that a treaty requires U.S. authorities to "deliver him to Peru alive."
"Maybe the risk of COVID-19 is worth it if he can make a run for it and get away," Hixson wrote. "The government says he faces the prospect of life in prison if he is convicted in Peru. But escape is riskier and more difficult now."
The former president is wanted in his home country on accusations of taking million in bribes from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. He denies the charges.
Toledo was Peru's president from 2001 to 2006 and has lived in California in recent years, defying orders from Peru's courts to return to face charges.
The Odebrecht scandal has upended politics in Peru, putting some of the country's most prominent politicians behind bars. The company acknowledged in a 2016 plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that it paid $800 million to officials largely in Latin America in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.
In order to be released from jail, Hixson said Toledo must first post $500,000 in cash bail and his wife must surrender her passports. It was not immediately clear how quickly Toledo's bail might be posted. Friends have promised to help with part of the bail.
Authorities in California had previously ordered about 7 million people in the San Francisco area to stay home in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and they extended the order to the whole state late Thursday. Toledo will be on a different sort of lockdown — court-ordered home confinement — and required to wear a GPS tracking device as part of his release.