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Former Guatemala president admits to taking bribes from Taiwan

Former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo [CIDOB profile, in Spanish; JURIST news archive] pleaded guilty before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] Tuesday to taking $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan in exchange for continued diplomatic recognition of the nation. Portillo read a statement [Reuters report] before the court admitting to taking the bribes as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. As part of the plea deal Portillo will face 46 to 71 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines with sentencing scheduled for June 23. Portillo was extradited to the US last May after the Guatemala Constitutional Court [official websites] ruled in favor [JURIST report] of his extradition. The $2.5 million Portillo received from Taiwan is only a small fraction of the tens of millions of dollars U.S. prosecutors have alleged Portillo embezzled from the Guatemalan government and laundered through US banks.

The legal saga of former president Portillo has been ongoing for more than five years. Portillo had pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to money laundering charges in the District Court in May. He was charged [indictment, PDF] with having laundered more than $70 million through US banks during his four years as president. In 2011 the criminal charges of embezzlement [JURIST report] against Portillo were thrown out by the lower Guatemalan court, which found that prosecutors had failed to meet their burden of demonstrating that Portillo was personally involved in the embezzlement of Guatemala's Ministry of Defense [official website, in Spanish] funds. Portillo was arrested [BBC report] in January 2011 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.

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