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Peru prosecutors seek to bar toppled president from leaving country

Anti-graft prosecutors in Peru on Wednesday asked a judge to bar President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski from leaving the South American country hours after he announced his resignation in the face of near-certain impeachment, a judiciary source told Reuters.

Kuczynski, a 79-year-old former Wall Street banker who once held U.S. citizenship, is guaranteed presidential immunity from prosecution until Congress formally accepts his resignation and Vice President Martin Vizcarra is sworn in to replace him.

Luis Galarreta, the president of Congress, said that would probably happen on Friday.

Kuczynski denies wrongdoing and has promised to cooperate with a graft probe into his connections to Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company that has acknowledged bribing officials across Latin America.

The rightwing opposition party that controls Congress, Popular Force, first sought to force Kuczynski from office in December after revealing he failed to disclose payments Odebrecht made to his Flordia-based consulting firm while he held public office in a previous government.

Kuczynski had vowed not to resign for months, blaming the rightwing opposition for constant scandals that he said had made it impossible for him to govern Peru, one of Latin America’s most stable markets and the world’s No. 2 producer of copper.

But secret audio and video recordings released this week ensnared Kuczynski in vote-buying allegations that prompted even his staunchest supporters to demand he step down.

Kuczynski said the material, in which his allies are heard offering access to lucrative public work contracts in exchange for political support, had been edited as part of a relentless campaign to malign him.

But the hostile political climate had become untenable, he added.

“I think what’s best for the country is for me to resign…I don’t want to be an obstacle for the nation’s search for a path to unity and harmony,” Kuczynski said in a pre-recorded video televised as he was driven from the presidential palace to his home in Lima’s financial district.

Markets Rally

Kuczynski’s announcement marked a spectacular downfall for a man elected less than two years ago amid hopes he would turbocharge growth while cleaning up government corruption and modernizing the Andean nation of about 30 million people.

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