Wed, Jan 27, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Former Guatemalan president charged with embezzlement


Alfonso Portillo, the fugitive former president of Guatemala, was charged in the US on Monday with using foreign banks to launder millions of dollars plundered from charity and government coffers.

Portillo, 58, is accused of “converting the office of the Guatemalan presidency into his personal ATM,” US Attorney Preet Bharara of New York said in a statement.

The disgraced politician was already facing embezzlement charges in his own country. Authorities there on Monday declared him a fugitive after dozens of soldiers and police officers raided five of his properties but didn’t find him.

“He’s being sought because he allegedly embezzled funds from the state and from an aid fund sent by Taiwan for an educational project,” Judge Belgica Deras said.

Portillo’s lawyer, Telesforo Guerra, said his client won’t turn himself in.

“He won’t face a judge and will run away from justice because this is a political process, not a judicial one,” Guerra said.

An indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan alleges the four-year scheme began in 2000, when Portillo began embezzling US$1.5 million in donations from Taiwan meant to buy school library books.

It says he endorsed checks drawn from a New York bank and deposited them in a Miami bank account; the money was then transferred to a Paris bank account in the name of his former wife and daughter.

In 2001, Portillo conspired with two members of the Guatemalan military — an unnamed colonel in charge of his security detail and an intelligence officer — to embezzle millions of dollars from the government, US prosecutors say.

Portillo served as president from 2000 to 2004 before fleeing to Mexico. He got a work visa and began working as a financial adviser for a construction materials company there but was later extradited to Guatemala.

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