Former Guatemalan President facing embezzlement charges

 By Rashida Wallace

From Manuel Noriega to former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, the tiny nations that make up Central America have seen more than their share of wayward leaders.  And now, add the name of Alfonso Portillo to that notorious list.

On May 24, 2013, former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo, 61, was extradited to the United States for a money laundering case.  The former president has been accused of using United States banks to legalize over $70 million dollars of his country’s funds between the year 2000 and 2004. According to Portillo, there is not enough evidence against him to be faced with these charges and therefore he was being “kidnapped” and taken to the United States to face his trial, he also stated that he was leaving with his “head held high”.

Former President Portillo also claims that this situation is detrimental to his health since he suffers from heart arrhythmia, water on the lungs and he recently had a liver operation this past April.

The court of Guatemala has tried Mr. Portillo on embezzlement of $15 million from the military in May 2011, but the court appealed those charges and now he is facing a New York judge in the United States. According to BBC news, “a federal grand jury in New York requested his extradition in January 2011”.

On Friday, Mr. Portillo was flown to Teterboro airport in New Jersey and was tried on Tuesday in New York before Judge Robert P. Patterson Jr. of the Manhattan federal district court, he pleads not guilty to the charges he faced.

In addition to several other incidents, Portillo has been accused of orchestrating the disappearance of  $3.9 million from the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense in 2001. Two co-conspirators allegedly delivered the stolen money to someone Portillo placed in charge of one of Guatemala’s national banks. It is said that Portillo then directed the money to be disbursed inappropriately.

One of Portillo’s lawyers stated in court that Portillo will be seeking bail, and yet another lawyer stated that his client was innocent. If former President Portillo is convicted of money laundering charges, he could face up to a maximum of 20 years in prison.

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