Guatemala leader authorizes extradition of ex-pres

AP News
Posted: Nov 16, 2011 12:02 AM
Guatemala leader authorizes extradition of ex-pres

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said Tuesday he will grant a U.S. extradition request for former president Alfonso Portillo, who faces U.S. charges of money laundering related to the alleged embezzlement of $1.5 million in foreign donations.

Colom said the country's courts have already approved the extradition of Portillo, and that he will respect those rulings.

"The president should not get mixed up in the decisions of judges and justices," Colom said. The country's highest court approved the extradition request in August.

Speaking at a news conference, Colom did not give a date for when Portillo might be sent north. The remaining administrative processes can take months before the extradition finally occurs.

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala said it "welcomes the decision of President Alvaro Colom and the government of Guatemala to promote justice and security."

"The Guatemalan authorities have sent a clear message that nobody is above the law," the statement said.

In May, a Guatemalan court found Portillo not guilty of charges that he stole $15 million from the country's Defense Department when he governed the country from 2000 to 2004.

The judges ruled that prosecutors failed to prove through documents or witnesses that Portillo was personally involved in embezzling the funds.

Portillo is charged in a New York federal court with money laundering and embezzling $1.5 million donated by Taiwan to buy schoolbooks for Guatemalan children. He allegedly deposited the money in Miami and transferred it to a Paris account in the name of his ex-wife and daughter.

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After leaving office in 2004, Portillo fled to Mexico where he received a work visa and was a financial adviser for a construction materials company.

He was extradited from Mexico to Guatemala in 2008 to face the embezzlement charges at home and remained free until he was arrested on Jan. 26, 2010 on the U.S. extradition request. He was captured at a beach preparing to flee Guatemala by boat.