Former Guatemalan president arrested

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Alfonso Portillo, the former president of Guatemala, was arrested yesterday, after the US requested his extradition on charges of money laundering.

Officials made the arrest at a beach in northeastern Guatemala, said attorney-general Amilcar Velasquez, noting that Portillo had been searched for for several days before the arrest. He was then jailed by court order, and US officials have been given forty days to give evidence to back up the requested extradition.

The day preceding the arrest, a New York court indicted the former president on charges of embezzling millions of dollars worth of public funds in 2000-2004, when he was in office. Prosecutors claim he also took US$1.5 million in donations from "Libraries for Peace", a Taiwanese government programme, and put them into accounts controlled by friends. He also faces charges from the Guatemalan government on corruption.

Portillo has denied the charges.

After being arrested, Portillo said he had been the victim of a political conspiracy before assuming the presidency, and he was afraid his life was in danger. "When I am in court, I'll mention all the names of the people behind the conspiracy [...] everything they've done, where they met," he said in a telephone interview. With all they've done to me in Guatemala, anything can happen," he said in a telephone interview with the Guatemalan Radio Sonora.

"We are going to prove that this is a political trial. We have proof," commented Telesforo Guerra, Portillo's lawyer, to Radio Sonora, as quoted by the Associated Press.

After Portillo's presidential term ended in 2004, he moved to Mexico, but was extradited back to Guatemala on corruption accusations. When the US made its extradition request, the former president was free on bail.


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