There was a time when Alejandro Toledo, president of Peru in 2001-2006, was in demand as a guest at every conference in the world, including Israel. He was the first Peruvian president of native Indian origin, was credited with restoring democracy to Peru after the dark days of President Alberto Fujimori's rule, and gave lectures about the elimination of poverty. He was also a friend of Israel and a valued member at the conferences of late President Shimon Peres. Today, he is considered a fugitive from his country, with serious bribery charges pending against him.
Toledo's relations with Israel have also cooled since then. Associates say that Toledo is angry at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for an insult two years ago when he tried to visit Israel and was refused entry. The refusal was not explicit, but he was told that it was better for him not to come, because there was no assurance that he would receive an entry visa.
Toledo's relations with Israel and Judaism began with his family. In 1979, he married Elaine Karp, a Jew born in France who was a member of the Hashomer Hatzair movement and immigrated to Israel. They met in the 1970s at Stanford University in the US. They divorced in 1987, and Karp returned to Israel, but Toledo followed her to Israel in 1994, and they remarried.
Toledo was previously a close friend of Israeli billionaire Josef Maiman, owner of the Merhav group and a former co-owner of Channel 10. Relations between them went awry, however, following corruption investigations in Peru involving huge bribes given to politicians and decision-makers by Brazilian company Odebrecht.
Maiman alleges that tens of millions of dollars found in his accounts were bribes intended for Toledo, and that he was a straw man and intermediary for Toledo. Two years ago, Maiman signed an agreement with the Peruvian authorities under which he is to pay a fine, return part of the money, and testify as required. In Peruvian legal terminology, the agreement is called "an agreement with a collaborator."
Two weeks ago, "Globes" revealed that Maiman, Toledo's former friend, had testified against Toledo for the fourth time at the Peruvian embassy in Tel Aviv. He told the prosecutors, who came from Lima, the Peruvian capital, that the money in his accounts allegedly designated for Toledo amounted to $35 million. "Globes" also reported that Toledo's lawyers complained that the testimony procedure had taken place without the presence of a defense representative. They wrote a letter of protest to Minister of Foreign Affairs Yisrael Katz saying that Toledo's rights had been violated on Israeli territory, and argued that this constituted a breach of consular agreements. "The irregular steps taken by the Peruvian authorities are in violation of international norms. The use of a questionable 'collaboration witness' like Maiman explains why the US authorities have for two years denied an extradition request in the Toledo case," says Adv. Nick Kaufman, Toledo's Israeli lawyer.
According to Toledo, after signing a state's witness agreement, Maiman changed some of his story to match new circumstances and discoveries that came to light. For example, the local Peruvian press reported that in his earlier testimony, Maiman admitted that $21.1 million had been deposited in his account as a bribe. As the investigation progressed and new information was obtained from Switzerland apparently linking him and his accounts to large sums, it was reported that he had increased the alleged bribe to $35 million.
Toledo says, "Josef Maiman is a compulsive storyteller. He lied, betrayed our friendship, and after my term as president began, betrayed me and used my status as president to do business behind my back. He changed his story about the events five times.
"In mid-2017, Maiman changed his story about the source of the money in his possession in order to protect himself and his family from Peruvian law. It's fairly clear, however, that Maiman used his friendship with me to get rich without my knowledge for years. Only Maiman knows how much money he made this way. It's obvious that he tried to conceal from the investigators the real amount of money he got from Odebrecht.
From friend to enemy
Toledo, a wanted fugitive from Peru, today lives with his wife in Stanford, where he is a guest lecturer. In the place he is staying in London, he granted "Globes" an exclusive interview, in which he tells his version of events in detail for the first time, after avoiding interviews for three years, he says. His version completely contradicts Maiman's version.
Maiman and Toledo were born one month apart in 1946. They now have different versions of the nature of their friendship and how long it lasted. Maiman has said quite a few times that they were friends for over 50 years, and recently said that their friendship began when they were 18, played soccer, and worked together in the Peruvian central bank. According to Maiman, after not seeing each other for several years, every time he went to Peru, "We were together all of the time." Toledo says that their friendship began much later, and became a real friendship only after he became president. No one disputes that they spent quite a bit of time together, were seen together in Lima fairly frequently, and were very close friends.
The Israeli press previously reported that Maiman was one of the key people in forging the connections between Toledo and Israel, and that the Israeli billionaire spent a vacation in the Caribbean Islands with the Toledos for example, and also met with Toledo two week later in Paris. It was also reported that Maiman was the one who introduced Toledo to late Israel President Shimon Peres in Davos.
"Globes": How did this happen? We know that you and Maiman were old friends, and that he introduced you to your wife.
Toledo: "This is another of Maiman's stories. In 2013, he said publicly in both Peru and Israel that he had known me for over 50 years, that he was my best friend, and that he introduced me to Eliane. This isn't true. I met him in early 1996 in Israel when I went there for academic activity. Eliane and I had already been married for years. We got married in 1979 in Stanford. His statements then about 50 years of acquaintance and matchmaking are far from the truth."
And the friendship?
"He isn't my best friend, and never was. We met in Israel, and I later learned that he had deliberately approached me when I won the elections in Peru."
Toledo ran in the elections in Peru in 2000 against President Alberto Fujimori, who was officially declared the winner. Toledo claims that the results were fabricated, and objective observers, including the US Secretary of State, supported this claim. The opposition succeeded in ousting Fujimori as president, and Toledo, a center-right candidate won the new elections held in 2001.
Various corruption allegations began to surface during Toledo's term against both Toledo and his wife. His support waned very rapidly. During most of his term, his support in the polls was rather low, and he was regarded as an unpopular president, despite the success of his economic and social policy. With the end of his term in 2006, Toledo returned to the US, and worked as a lecturer and scholar at Stanford University, and at the Brookings Institute as a researcher. He returned to Peru and ran again for president, but failed in the first round.
The Peruvian state attorney's office wants Maiman to testify against Toledo, and therefore signed an agreement with Maiman absolving him of any criminal accusation and imposing on him only a nominal $1.2 million fine (a new agreement has now been signed, details of which are still unknown). The prosecution is therefore funding expensive flights to distant Israel by prosecution teams in order to receive his testimony.
The reason for focusing efforts on Maiman, assuming that the court accepts his testimony, is a missing link in the suspicions against Toledo. Nothing else ties the former president to bribery, because no money of unexplained origin was found in his accounts, and he never met the people who gave the bribe. Another state's witness in the case, former representative of Odebrecht in Peru Jorge Barata, says that the money that third parties received from the company was meant for Toledo, but his contacts were with Maiman and other alleged representatives of the former president. This is probably the reason that the authorities in the US, which in contrast to Israel has an extradition treaty with Peru, have thus far not granted Peru's extradition request against Toledo.
Toledo regards Peru's determination to convict him as political persecution originating in his success in getting rid of the tyrant, Fujimori, and restoring democracy to his country. His statements should be treated with caution, however; there are grave accusations against him, and it can be assumed that he will use any available argument against them. Investigation of corruption in Peru does not stop at Toledo. A sitting president, Pablo Kuczynski, resigned on grounds of incapacity because of the accusations against him; former President Alan Garcia committed suicide because of the investigation against him; and Keiko Fujimori, Alberto Fujimori's daughter and Toledo's bitter enemy, is currently under arrest.
In addition to Toledo's anger about the user of the Peruvian embassy in Israel for giving Maiman's testimony, he finds it difficult to restrain himself concerning the insult he suffered over two years ago, when he tried to come to Israel and was refused. His associates say that Toledo is angry at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he himself uses diplomatic language: "We believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu did not receive full information when he decided to prevent our entry to Israel."
It can be assumed that Israel chose to behave this way towards Toledo in order to avoid unnecessary problems. Israel has no extradition treaty with Peru, but it had an ad hoc agreement with Peru when the authorities there agreed to extradite former Judge Dan Cohen, a wanted fugitive accused on corruption in Israel. This agreement mentions the principle of reciprocity, meaning that Israel will have to return the favor at some point. The decision-makers in Jerusalem probably preferred to avoid having to deal with this issue.
Toledo says, "I admire what Israel has built in its history. I identify with Israel as a country, because my country has made great progress, but is still not completely free. I belong to an organization of non-Jewish friends of Israel, even though unfortunately, I have been unable to participate in its meetings (because of his legal problems, S.L.)."
Odebrecht is a Brazilian infrastructure company that paved many of the roads in Latin America for a decade, and paved its way to tenders for roads and other infrastructure with bribes. The company had a special department for handling payments of bribes.
The Odebrecht affair broke in 2015, causing tumult all over the Western hemisphere. It raised the curtain on corruption that was practically built-in. Many of Peru's current corruption investigations involving Odebrecht concern various infrastructure projects. In Toledo's case, the suspicions concern tenders for construction of two segments of the Interoceanic Highway crossing Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil.
Toledo: "We, together with Brazil, originated the idea of connecting South America in order to be competitive in today's world. The Peruvian Congress and National Infrastructure Commission (which contains administration members and representatives of political and social institutions, S.L.) approved the idea unanimously. I want to emphasize that when the road paving work was carried out, I was no longer president." The prosecutors in Peru say that the payments were made gradually as the work progressed, and took place during the term of late President Alan Garcia, who succeeded Toledo).
As part of the investigation, Peru signed a state's witness agreement with Jorge Barata, Odebrecht's representative in Peru, who managed the company's systems of bribes in the country. Barata testified about meetings in hotels in Brazil in which Maiman and others negotiated the amount of the bribe, which they say was meant for Toledo.
Mothers-in-law, properties, and tax
One affair that results is the "Ecoteva affair." In 2012, Holocaust survivor Eva Fernenbug purchased a residential building in the prestigious Las Casuarinas area of Lima and two offices for $5 million. Fernenbug is the Eliane Karp's mother. The money for buying the properties was transferred from two companies in Costa Rica and Panama, and from the Ecoteva company, which is linked to Maiman. Maiman later said that he was Toledo's straw man in the affair, and bought the properties in order to launder some of the bribe money for him. Toledo's version of events is totally different.
"Maiman is the one who used my mother-in-law to evade taxes. The reason that he asked my mother-in-law for help was that she knew his mother; both of their families died in the Holocaust. Maiman also previously stated publicly that all of the money used to the properties belonged to him, and that is what appears in the properties registry. He offered my mother-in-law $10,000 for her help, which he never paid her. He later changed his story and said that he bought the properties for me. We have a document stating that the properties belong to him."
Do you think that Maiman betrayed you? Did he sell you down the river to save his hide?
"Definitely, Maiman lied and betrayed our friendship. We have documents that our lawyers recently obtained showing clearly that he negotiated with Odebrecht behind my back, while using my name. In one of the documents, he appears as an 'advisor' for the highway project in southern and northern Peru for millions of dollars. Barata was the initiator.
"For us, this is a new discovery, because the prosecutors concealed the documents for a long time. At the beginning of my presidency, he betrayed my trust and used my position as president to do business with Barata behind my back."
Toledo says that there are contradictions in the testimonies by Barata and Maiman, and that his lawyer will demand a confrontation with the two men.
In his most recent affidavit, Maiman alleged that the $35 million that Odebrecht deposited in his account was a bribe for you.
"That's a lie. He can't show a single document or a single deposit that he made in any account of mine anywhere in the world. I have only one bank account in the US and two in Peru. Furthermore, the Peruvian national prosecutor withdrew my banking confidentiality everywhere in the world, and publicly announced that no signs whatsoever of wealth from an unknown source were found with me or my wife."
Maiman told the Peruvian Congress that he lent you and your wife $500,000 to cover mortgages on your houses in Lima.
"That's true, but that's all that we own Maiman."
<i<>You say that the money was not meant for you. Why did Odebrecht pay such amounts to a person who had no influence on Peru's infrastructure tenders? It is logical that if Maiman received such sums, he was probably a straw man or intermediary for somebody else. The prosecution in Peru says that you are the man.
"He wasn't an intermediary. He was the man. He held $35 million transferred from Odebrecht to him, and it was meant for him. Maiman used my name behind my back, without my knowledge. Not only did he betray my friendship, but from the beginning of our relations, looking back on it, I realize that he wanted to use my presidency to get rich. We never discussed any amount of money for the highway in southern Peru, and I recently learned that Maiman was cooked up other deals with Barata that had no connection with me. In a recent investigation in Brazil, Barata admitted in his answer to a question by my lawyer that he assumed that the money was for me, but he had no proof of it."
"He set me up"
In a long interview with "Calcalist" in March 2019, Maiman said that he had been Toledo's friend for 55 years. He added, "He (Toledo) is in trouble. I knew this only in retrospect. He got favors from Brazilian contractors and said that I was the one who made the deals, not he. That wasn't true, and I'm saying only that we're no longer friends. There was no indictment against me (in Peru). I have no pending legal proceedings against me; I was questioned and not accused of anything. In contrast to the reports, I won't be a state's witness. There will be a trial and I will be called to testify… I still have a lot of warm feelings for him (Toledo), other than he set me up."
You are considered a fugitive from Peru. Why don't you return there with the documents you sent me, stand trial, and prove your innocence?
Toledo: "The Peruvian government is waging an international campaign aimed at besmirching me and attacking my honor. It's a politically motivated crusade. I haven't been officially accused to this day, and there's no indictment against me, which didn't prevent the government from issuing two Interpol warrants against me. No rational person, however innocent he may be, will voluntarily appear for a fictitious show trial.
"They won't forgive us for leading our democratic people in order to overthrow Alberto Fujimori's dictatorship, nor for the fact that we prevented the victory of Keiko Fujimori in 2011 and 2016 elections, so that other democratic candidates would win. They're the ones who are persecuting us. The Fujimoris and their partners are deeply rooted in every institution, and are using the institutions to exact revenge and persecute me for political reasons. We'll defend ourselves in the international courts."
Two weeks ago, when Maiman was about to give testimony against you, this time decisive, at the Peruvian embassy in Israel, your lawyers sent a letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Yisrael Katz protesting that Israel was allowing such a thing. What do you expect from the Israeli government in this context?
"We learned of the additional investigation only through the media, and they refused to allow my lawyer to be present during the testimony. They rudely refused. In the letter we sent to the Israeli foreign minister, we expressed our concern that they were using the embassy as a place where they could violate Peruvian due process and a suspect's right to defend himself.
"Our hearts and life are dedicated to strengthening democracy in the world. Elaine and I would really like to continue studying Israel's achievements. We hope that President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the people in Israel give us back this right." Toledo continued in Hebrew: "I hope we will see each other soon in Israel."
The office of Maiman said, "Toledo's statements are not worthy of a response."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 14, 2019
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