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Peru hopeful accused of coke use

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) — Two weeks before Peruvian elections, leading magazine Caretas reported Thursday that front-running presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo tested positive for cocaine in a hospital urine analysis in 1998.

Toledo was not immediately available for comment, but Luis Solari, a legislator of his Peru Possible party, told radio news that "the report is pernicious, perverse and harmful to the electoral process." He said it was part of a dirty tricks campaign against Toledo.

Caretas published a Lima clinic analysis that followed statements last year from Toledo's wife Eliane Karp that the candidate had been kidnapped and returned home after 24 hours drugged and disoriented in 1998.

Karp's declarations came during the 2000 election race between Toledo and ex-President Alberto Fujimori.

Fujimori won that vote, overshadowed by charges of fraud and smear campaigns against Fujimori's foes. Congress sacked Fujimori in November amid allegations of corruption.

Karp said during the 2000 campaign she suspected secret agents of Fujimori's government were behind the kidnapping.

But Caretas cited a police report Oct. 16, 1998—the day of the hospital test—saying there appeared to be no kidnapping and Toledo was cited telling police the kidnapping report had stemmed from a "misunderstanding."

Caretas' report adds to the controversy surrounding a candidate already fending off charges he fathered a lovechild 13 years ago but refused to recognize the girl. Allegations of dirty tricks between Toledo and his main rival Lourdes Flores have dominated the leadership race ahead of the April 8 vote.

"It is evident that anyone who turns to drugs has a problem of instability and it is a worrying sign" for someone who proposes to run "a government that must make decisions under huge pressures," Lourdes told CPN radio news.

"The country needs to be sure of the integrity of someone who aspires to be president of the Republic," Caretas, which has been a supporter of Toledo, said in its editorial.

Caretas alleged that Toledo tried to stop publication of the report by offering its investigative reporter, Jimmy Torres, a job in his campaign team to carry out probes of other candidates, sparking sharp criticism from the magazine. "Caretas considers this really deplorable," said the magazine's owner, Enrique Zileri.

"Obviously if I had accepted the job it would have meant that the report would not be published," Torres told Reuters.

Toledo says he was fraudulently robbed of victory last year when he ran against Fujimori in his bid for a third term. He is popular in Peru for leading street protests again Fujimori and published reports say he has been a victim of harassment and smear campaigns by Fujimori's government.

The magazine reported that a sleeping drug was also found in the analysis. Zileri told local Radio programas news there were "still a lot of things to clarify."

Toledo leads in polls ahead of the election—called last year after Fujimori was sacked by Congress amid allegations of corruption centering on his spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.