May 10, 2011

Guatemala Ex-Leader Fights US Extradition Request

France 24 news
written by AFP staff
Wednesday May 11, 2011

Hours after being acquitted of embezzling $15 million in defense funds, former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo began fighting extradition to the United States over money laundering allegations.

The US government has accused Portillo, president from 2000 to 2004, of misappropriating some $75 million which he allegedly laundered through bank accounts in the United States and Europe.

A Guatemalan court late Monday acquitted Portillo, 59, along with his defense and finance ministers, of the domestic embezzlement charges. Prosecutors said they would appeal the case.

Portillo will meanwhile remain in prison while the court examines the US extradition request, while the two former ministers have been released, prisons spokesman Rudy Esquivel said late Tuesday.

All three have, however, been banned from leaving the country.

Portillo has always insisted he is innocent of all the charges against him and has vowed to fight the US extradition request.

"The verdict acquitting him was the first step; now we have to tackle the second -- vacating that legally baseless extradition order," his attorney, Telesforo Guerra, said.

The Monday ruling "reflects the true state of justice in Guatemala," said the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an office created by the United Nations to clean up the country's legal system.

Costa Rican former attorney general Francisco Dall'Anese, who heads the CICIG, said his office believes it supplied enough evidence to convict the three former officials.

And a rights group known as the Mutual Support Group (GAM) threatened to sue two of the judges on the panel that acquitted Portillo.

After finishing his term in January 2004 with strong public support, especially from his right-wing base, Portillo fled to El Salvador to dodge the corruption charges.

He then moved to Mexico in 2005 after losing his immunity from prosecution. Mexican authorities extradited him to Guatemala in October 2008.

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