Guatemalan Ex-President Extradited To U.S. On Money Laundering Charges

by
Reuters
Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo was extradited on Friday to the United States to face money laundering charges, the U.S. embassy in Guatemala said.

Former Guatemalan president Portillo, accused of corruption, speaks to media before boarding plane for his extradition to United States in Guatemala City

Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo was extradited on Friday to the United States to face money laundering charges, the U.S. embassy in Guatemala said.

A U.S. grand jury decided in 2009 that Portillo, who was in office from 2000 to 2004, should face charges that he laundered $70 million through U.S. banks.

A Guatemalan court cleared Portillo of local embezzlement charges in May 2011. But the country's supreme court later endorsed an extradition request by the United States that Portillo face money laundering charges, in a decision rubber-stamped by then-President Alvaro Colom.

Portillo defeated an attempt earlier this year by Guatemala's attorney general to overturn his exoneration, but he was unable to defeat the U.S. request for his extradition.

"This decision is an important affirmation of the rule of law and due process in Guatemala," the U.S. embassy said in a statement.

Local authorities picked Portillo up on Friday morning from a military hospital where he was receiving treatment for liver problems. Portillo was transferred to the hospital in April from a Guatemalan jail where he had been held pending a decision on the extradition.

Portillo's lawyers said police put the former president on a plane headed for New York.

"They showed up at the hospital, said, 'get dressed, put on this shirt and we are taking you to the Air Force base,'" attorney Mauricio Berreondo told reporters just before the flight took off.

The U.S. grand jury's indictment claims Portillo, 61, laundered government money through U.S. and European accounts. French prosecutors are also investigating the allegations.

Portillo, who took office promising to redistribute wealth in the poverty-plagued Central American country, fled Guatemala for Mexico shortly after completing his term in 2004. He was extradited from Mexico to Guatemala in 2008 to stand trial on the local embezzlement charges.

Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, 86, who was sentenced on May 10 to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity, had his conviction annulled earlier this week, in a decision that lawyers said would likely be permanent.

The conviction had been hailed as a landmark for justice in the Central American nation where as many as 250,000 people were killed in a 1960-1996 civil war.