Ex-Guatemala President Portillo Extradited to US

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Former President of Guatemala, Alfonso Portillo, has been extradited to the United States to face charges of embezzlement and money laundering, a rare result against impunity in this battered Central American nation.

The ex-president was flown to New York on May 24, nine months after Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ruled unanimously in favor of extradition.

Portillo stands accused of laundering $70 million of public money through US banks as president between 2000 and 2004, reported Reuters. According to the US indictment, Portillo set up fictitious foundations to divert funds, including from foreign governments, and stole millions from his own ministries.

Portillo was first accused of corruption in Guatemala but fled to Mexico shortly before the charges were filed. He was then extradited to Guatemala, but released while evidence was being collected.

Police arrested Portillo in 2010 as he was preparing to flee a second time and he stood trial on charges of misappropriating $15 million of public funds.

However, in 2011 he was controversially acquitted by a panel of judges that disallowed evidence and dismissed witnesses as “unreliable.” The former president is now facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

InSight Crime Analysis

The strength of the evidence against Portillo, which includes checks signed by him and his underlings, and money diverted through accounts in his family’s name, suggests he is unlikely to stage another great escape this time round.

The fact that Portillo has not been able to avoid extradition is a positive sign for ending impunity in Guatemala. However his previous acquittal and the fact that extradition was necessary remain black marks against the Guatemalan judicial system.

The decision closely follows another case that highlights both the progress made in the Guatemalan judicial system and the lingering issues around impunity — the landmark conviction of former military dictator and one time Portillo ally Rios Montt on human rights charges, followed by the overturning of that decision on technicalities.

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