Thu, Feb 15, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Former Guatemalan president held over corruption case

CABINET ROUND-UP:Most of Alvaro Colom’s former ministers face fraud charges linked to the purchase of public buses for Guatemala City

AP, GUATEMALA CITY

Prosecutors on Tuesday said they have detained former Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom and nearly his entire former Cabinet, including the chairman of Oxfam International, in a corruption case involving a bus concession.

Colom, who governed from 2008 to 2012, is the latest in a series of former Guatemalan presidents to face legal problems.

He was recently named by the Organization of American States as an envoy to Honduras in a bid to help sort out a highly disputed election there.

Special prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval, who said Colom was arrested on Tuesday, is looking into questionable purchases of public buses for Guatemala City.

Sandoval said those arrested face charges of fraud and embezzlement.

The detentions included the former ministers of the interior, finance, defense, economy, education, labor, environment, health, sports and culture, and energy and mines, Sandoval said.

Former Guatemalan minister of finance Alberto Fuentes Knight is chairman of Oxfam International.

The global nonprofit organization said in a statement that it did not know the nature of formal charges against Fuentes.

“However, he has been entirely open with his Oxfam board and executive that he has been among former officials being investigated as part of a budgetary transaction made by the Guatemalan government while he was finance minister,” the group said. “He has assured us that he has cooperated fully with the investigation in the confidence he did not knowingly transgress rules or procedures.”

The case centers on a public bus firm known as Transurbano. The government auctioned off 25-year concessions for Guatemala City bus routes and the private companies that won the contracts were later exempted from taxes.

Prosecutors say the process was deeply flawed and included subsidies and other measures that benefited public servants.

The UN anti-corruption mission in Guatemala participated in the investigation.

Chief prosecutor Thelma Aldana told a news conference that investigators suspect the government was defrauded out of US$35 million.

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