(Note language that may offend some readers in paragraph 7)
By Alexandria Sage
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A former Peruvian first lady was dragged out of a courtroom in San Francisco on Thursday as she cursed a judge’s decision to keep her husband, ex-president Alejandro Toledo, in jail pending extradition proceedings.
Toledo, 73, is wanted in Peru to stand trial over accusations that he took a $20 million bribe from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht during his 2001-2006 term.
Toledo denies wrongdoing. He was arrested in July and has sought release on $1 million bail.
Odebrecht acknowledged in a 2016 leniency deal that it had bribed officials in a dozen Latin American countries, including Peru, to secure public works contracts. A former Odebrecht executive has said Toledo asked for a bribe and has been providing evidence to corroborate the claim.
U.S. Federal Magistrate Judge Thomas Hixson ruled that Toledo was too much of a flight risk to free, citing what he described as connections to influential people in different countries.
“I’ve given a lot of thought to this,” Hixson told a courtroom packed with Toledo’s supporters and Peruvian media. “I’m going to maintain the detention order in place.”
After the ruling was announced, Toledo’s wife, Belgian-American anthropologist Eliane Karp shouted, “What the fuck is this trial? It’s a joke! It’s a joke!”
U.S. Marshals dragged Karp, 65, from the courtroom as she resisted and shouted that her husband would die in jail.
The outburst was the latest drama in the far-reaching corruption scandal that has hit Peruvian politicians particularly hard. Earlier this year, another former president, Alan Garcia, killed himself to avoid arrest in the Odebrecht probe. Two other former presidents are under investigation, with one under house arrest.
Toledo has been considered a fugitive in Peru since 2017, when a Peruvian judge ordered him detained to keep him from fleeing or obstructing the probe. But Toledo was outside of the country at the time and refused to return.
It was unclear if Toledo will remain in solitary confinement, an arrangement made to separate him from the general prison population for safety reasons.
Defence attorney Graham Archer argued Toledo was being kept in inhumane conditions.
Hixson said he was not happy with the situation but that he had to ensure Toledo would not flee.
A prosecutor for the government said Toledo might yet be moved to “maximum separation” in prison, in which he would be put in a shared facility with other at-risk prisoners.
Toledo rose to power railing against government abuse and corruption under his predecessor Alberto Fujimori, a right-wing authoritarian who is now in prison in Peru for human rights violations and graft.
Reporting by Alexandria Sage, Writing by Mitra Taj, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien