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Guatemala ex-president ordered to stand trial for embezzlement

A Guatemalan judge ruled Wednesday that former president Alfonso Portillo [CIDOB profile, in Spanish] and two of his former ministers will stand trial on charges of embezzlement. Portillo, president of Guatemala from 2000-2004, is accused of diverting approximately USD $15 million in funds from the Ministry of Defense. The ministers of finance and defense who served under Portillo face similar charges. The judge issued his ruling after the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) [official website, in Spanish] provided sufficient evidence to the court of Portillo's corruption. The judge's determination was also aided by evidence provided by the French government [AFP report, in Spanish] showing that bank accounts were established in the names of members of Portillo's family in order to launder the money. The documentation also showed that Portillo transferred money between accounts in the US, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Lawyers for the men maintain their innocence, arguing that they were acting within the country's constitutional limits. The trial is scheduled to begin in September.

In March, a Guatemalan court ruled that Portillo can be extradited to the US [JURIST report] to face charges of money laundering. He is accused of taking $15.8 million from funds designated for the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense and siphoning it into bank accounts in Europe and Bermuda. Portillo was arrested [BBC report] in January following an arrest warrant issued by Guatemala [JURIST report] based on the US indictment. In 2008, Portillo was extradited [JURIST report] back to Guatemala from Mexico, where he had fled after his immunity expired along with his term in office. The extradition order was first signed [JURIST report] in 2006, but Portillo challenged it until the Mexican Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] ruled against him in January 2008. Portillo will have to stand trial in Guatemala [CP report] before he can be extradited to the US.

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