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Former president Portillo arrested by security forces

Security forces in Guatemala have arrested the country's fugitive former president, Alfonso Portillo, who was charged by US prosecutors on Monday with laundering millions of dollars he embezzled while head of state.

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AFP - US prosecutors on Monday charged Guatemala's fugitive former president, Alfonso Portillo, with laundering millions of dollars he embezzled while in office.

Portillo, who was president from 2000-2004, "embezzled tens of million of dollars worth of public funds, a portion of which he then laundered through bank accounts located, among other places, in the United States and Europe," the grand jury indictment reads.

The grand jury indicted Portillo, 58, in New York.

The United States has requested Portillo's extradition. Guatemalan police said Sunday they had searched his two homes in Guatemala City and his birthplace in eastern Zacapa, but failed to find him.

The 16-page indictment charges Portillo with using two national banks that he oversaw to make fraudulent transactions an embezzle money from the government "to enrich himself and his co-conspirators."

He then allegedly laundered this money through "various international bank accounts, including accounts located in the United States, through at least in or about 2006."

Prosecutors said they were seeking forfeiture of the allegedly laundered money.

If found guilty, Portillo could be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of of 500,000 dollars, or double the value of funds in the money laundering transactions.

Portillo embezzled almost four million dollars from the ministry of defense and also stole donations from Taiwan to a program known as Bibliotecas Para La Paz, or Libraries for Peace, according to the indictment.

Taiwan issued three checks of half a million dollars each in 2000 to purchase books. "None of the checks issued by the Government of Taiwan was applied to the Libraries for Peace program. Instead..., this money was diverted," the indictment said.

Between 2000-2003, Portillo also allegedly misappropriated funds from the publicly financed reserves of one of the banks he oversaw, Credito Hipotecario Nacional (CHN).

To launder money, Portillo moved funds around the world, including in Florida, Lichtenstein, London, Luxembourg, Paris and Switzerland, the charges allege.

Portillo fled to Mexico in 2005 after he lost his immunity from prosecution for alleged corruption during his 2000-2004 administration. In October 2008, he was extradited from Mexico to Guatemala, where he has been awaiting trial on embezzlement charges.

"Portillo abused the trust of his nation's people," said US Attorney Preet Bharara in New York. "No matter who you are, if you use our financial system to launder your dirty cash, we will follow the money trail to your door."

 

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