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Guatemala ex-president begins embezzlement trial

Former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo [CIDOB profile, in Spanish] went to trial on Friday facing charges of embezzlement [JURIST report]. Portillo denies accusations that he diverted approximately USD $15 million in funds from the Ministry of Defense while he was in power between 2000 and 2004. Former Defense Minister Eduardo Arevalo and former Finance Minister Manuel Maza are also on trial. The trial was allowed to proceed after the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) [official website, in Spanish] provided sufficient evidence to the court of Portillo's corruption. Evidence was also provided by the French government showing that bank accounts were established in the names of members of Portillo's family in order to launder the money. The trial was scheduled to begin in September, but was delayed after a series of objections by Portillo's lawyers.

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 ruled against him in January 2008. Lawyers for the Portillo and his minsters maintain their innocence, arguing that they were acting within the country's constitutional limits.

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