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An international arrest warrant issued by Peru's Interior Ministry, offering 100,000 Peruvian soles ($31,000) for information on the whereabouts of former president Alejandro Toledo, is seen in Lima, Peru. Picture provided to Reuters on February 10, 2017. Peruvian Police/Handout via Reuters


By Mitra Taj

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru put former president Alejandro Toledo on its list of the country's most wanted criminals on Friday as it sought clues about his whereabouts after a judge issued an international arrest warrant in connection to a far-reaching bribery probe.

The interior ministry offered 100,000 soles (£24,621) for information leading to his capture and urged Interpol to quickly issue a red alert to help find him.

Prosecutors allege Toledo took $20 million (£16 million) in bribes from Brazilian builder Odebrecht S.A., at the centre of Latin America's biggest region-wide graft scandal, and a judge ruled Thursday that he must be jailed while influence peddling and money laundering charges are prepared against him.

"Anyone in the world who can help us find him can claim the reward," Interior Minister Carlos Basombrio said on local TV station Canal N.

"Peru doesn't deserve to see another president flee justice," Basombrio added.

Toledo rose to power denouncing widespread corruption in the government of his predecessor Alberto Fujimori, who fled to Japan amid a far-reaching graft inquiry in 2000. Fujimori is now serving a 25-year sentence in Peru for corruption and human rights abuses during his decade-long authoritarian rule.

Toledo has not been convicted of any crimes and has denied wrongdoing. Last week he was in France, which has an extradition treaty with Peru.

Toledo's lawyer, Heriberto Benitez, denied that Toledo was on the run and told Reuters he was waiting for the results of an appeal. Benitez declined to say where Toledo was, citing a confidentiality agreement with his client.

After the judge's decision late on Thursday, Benitez said he would recommend Toledo not return to Peru to face a justice system he called "vindictive."

Justice Minister Marisol Perez Tello said Toledo would be guaranteed a fair trial.

"We're all very ashamed of what this looks like internationally, all we're asking is that he come back to explain what happened," Perez Tello said.

Some Peruvians have speculated that Toledo might be in Israel, where his longtime friend, Israeli businessman Yosef Maiman, is believed to live.

Israel does not have an extradition treaty with Peru.

Prosecutors allege Toledo made a pact with Odebrecht to help it win two lucrative highway contracts in exchange for bribes he asked to be deposited in the accounts of offshore companies controlled by Maiman. Authorities have traced some $10 million from Odebrecht to Maiman's companies so far.

Maiman did not respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting By Mitra Taj, Additional Reporting by Ursula Scollo; Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Bernard Orr)

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