Guatemala president approves US extradition of former president

[JURIST] Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom [official website] on Tuesday said he will allow former president Alfonso Portillo [CIDOB profile, in Spanish] to be extradited to the US for trial. The charges against Portillo in the US stem from accusations of his involvement in money laundering and the embezzlement [AP report] of $1.5 million in foreign donations from Taiwan, which were to be used to buy schoolbooks for Guatemalan children. Instead, it is alleged that Portillo deposited the funds in various banks for his personal use. Upon extradition, which may not take place for months, Portillo will stand trial in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website]. His extradition was approved [JURIST report] by a Guatemalan criminal court in March of 2010. Portillo, who was president from 2000 to 2004, was tried earlier this year in Guatemala on charges of embezzlement [JURIST report]. In that trial, he was accused of diverting approximately USD $15 million in funds from the Ministry of Defense. However, he was found not guilty after the judges determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he was personally involved.

Colom has also faced recent legal trouble. In August, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court [official website, in Spanish] ruled that former first lady Sandra Torres is ineligible to run for the office of president [JURIST report] because of her relationship to Colom, her ex-husband. Torres and Colom divorced earlier this year [BBC report] after Torres announced her plans to represent the ruling National Unity for Hope party in elections that will be held in September. The Guatemalan Constitution [text, PDF] bans relatives of the president from running for the office. Court President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre held that because Torres was Colom's wife for most of the term, Torres would be in violation of the Constitution if she were to run for office. Otto Perez Molina, Torres' main opposition and leader of the Patriot Party, accused the two of fraud [BBC report] for divorcing in an effort to circumvent the constitutional ban. However, the court did not rule on whether this issue.

 

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