A former president of Peru died on Wednesday after shooting himself in the head when the authorities tried to arrest him in connection with one of the biggest corruption scandals in Latin American history.
When the authorities arrived at the home of the former president, Alan García, with an arrest warrant, he locked himself into his bedroom, shot himself and was rushed to a hospital, his personal secretary told reporters.
The charges relate to Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction giant, which last year admitted to $800 million in payoffs in exchange for lucrative contracts for projects including roads, dams and bridges. The company was a main builder across Latin America, where it profited from a commodities boom that led to a huge spike in infrastructure construction.
The revelation that Odebrecht had secured contracts through graft set off a flurry of investigations by prosecutors and lawmakers, principally in Latin America, as they sought to learn who was on the receiving end of the payments.
Mr. García, 69, a rare two-term president who had become a larger-than-life figure in Peru, and whose legacy straddled periods of both growth and economic collapse, knew that he was under investigation. Last year, he fled to the Uruguayan Embassy in Lima, the capital, where he asked for asylum. The request was denied, and Mr. García returned home.
On Wednesday morning, the Peruvian authorities ordered an initial 10-day detention of Mr. García on accusations of money laundering, influence peddling and collusion. The measure allows officials to hold suspects before charges are formally presented.
That afternoon, mourners from his political party gathered outside the hospital as news came that the former president was dead.
Writing on Twitter, Peru’s current president, Martín Vizcarra, said that he was “dismayed” by the death of Mr. García, who served one term from 1985 to 1990 and another from 2006 to 2011. Mr. Vizcarra joined many Latin American leaders in expressing their condolences to Mr. García’s family.
The kickback scandals in which Mr. García had been implicated have touched off a surge of arrests throughout the region.
In Brazil, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sentenced to 12 years in prison last year for corruption and money laundering, and is accused of taking bribes from Odebrecht.
In Ecuador, a former vice president was given a six-year sentence for pocketing millions from the company.
And in Colombia, protesters have called for the resignation of the attorney general, who is investigating Odebrecht despite having worked as an adviser to one of its partners.
But of all the countries affected by the prosecutions, none has been more shaken than Peru, where the scandals reached a number of ex-presidents.
Last week, prosecutors detained Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Mr. Vizcarra’s predecessor, in an investigation related to the case. They have asked that he be held up to three years as they gather evidence.
Alejandro Toledo, who was president in the early 2000s, is wanted for extradition from the United States and has refused to return to Peru; Ollanta Humala, president from 2006 to 2011, was detained as well, but eventually released.
Odebrecht, which began work in Peru in 1979, had risen to be one of the country’s chief constructors of roads, bridges, dams and highways.
The company built a $4.5 billion road that connected the Pacific to the Amazon basin and an electric train in Lima. It was behind a $1.9 billion irrigation project called Chavimochic that irrigated a section of desert on Peru’s northern coast and paved the way for the export of asparagus and strawberries.
But it also left Peru in the lurch of one of its most toxic political crises in years.
In late 2017, after Mr. Kuczynski, then the president, was linked to a $782,000 payment from Odebrecht, and his rivals in Congress moved to impeach him. He avoided being ousted at the time, but resigned last March, and was detained this month. He has maintained his innocence, and chosen to fight in court.
The authorities appeared to have been closing in on Mr. García as well, bringing a corruption case that could have ended his decades-long career in Peruvian politics.
At the time he took office in 1985, he was Latin America’s youngest president, at 36. But the country soon entered a disastrous economic collapse in which hyperinflation reached an estimated 2 million percent. The period was also marred by deadly conflict with the Peruvian rebel group Shining Path, which Mr. García seemed unable to control.
Mr. García was succeeded by Alberto Fujimori, a populist who suspended the Constitution and ran the country as a dictator for a decade, citing the unrest.
Peru’s democracy was eventually restored, and Mr. García returned to power in an election in 2006. With the Shining Path largely defeated, Mr. García turned his attention to foreign investment, particularly in mining, and the country’s economy grew at rates well above 5 percent.
But Mr. García’s popularity, even after his second term, never recovered. He was known by many critics in Peru as “crazy horse,” for what they called his tendency to make rash decisions and behave in an unstable way.
His second term became a point of investigation for prosecutors, who examined whether campaign contributions for Mr. García’s party were tied to the Odebrecht scandal.