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FILE PHOTO: Former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo then candidate during a campaign rally in Chimbote, Peru, May 25, 2000. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
LIMA (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Peru were preparing to request the arrest of former president Alejandro Toledo on Saturday after uncovering evidence that implicates him in $20 million (£16 million) in bribes that the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht has acknowledged distributing to win a contract during his government, a source said.
Authorities searched a house owned by Toledo in Lima early on Saturday, the attorney general's office said on Twitter without providing additional details.
A source in the attorney general's office who was not authorized to make public comments said the raid follows the detection of $11 million transferred to an associate of Toledo that prosecutors believe is part of $20 million in bribes that Odebrecht has said it gave to help secure an infrastructure contract during his 2001-2006 term.
A representative of Toledo did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Toledo, reached by phone from Paris by the local daily El Comercio, denied taking any bribes, according to audio of the interview posted on the newspaper's website.
Peru already has imprisoned one of its former presidents for graft - ex-authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year sentence for convictions that include human rights abuses.
Toledo rose to power denouncing Fujimori and promising to usher in a democratic era free of corruption.
In a settlement with U.S. prosecutors in December, Odebrecht acknowledged distributing $29 million in bribes to secure public work contracts in Peru over a period spanning three presidencies.
The agreement said the family-owned engineering conglomerate made $20 million worth of corrupt payments between 2005 and 2008 to benefit an unnamed high-ranking official that offered to help the company win an infrastructure contract in 2005.
Current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was Toledo's finance minister and prime minister and has denied any involvement in Odebrecht's kickback schemes.
"Justice must be the same for everyone," Kuczynski said on Twitter. "If someone committed acts of corruption, they must be penalized. I've ordered the executive to collaborate with whatever is necessary to guarantee the investigation is efficient. Corruption never again."
Kuczynski is the subject of a separate preliminary investigation regarding a law he signed off on in 2006 that removed legal obstacles to highway contracts awarded to Odebrecht and other Brazilian companies. He has denied wrongdoing.
Odebrecht has acknowledged doling out hundreds of millions in bribes to win public work contracts in Latin America, spurring inquiries from Peru to Panama that have shaken the region's elites.
(Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Bill Trott)