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Crime

Guatemala extradites ex-President Portillo to US over money laundering charges

Ex-Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo has been extradited to the United States to face money laundering charges. The ailing former leader is accused of laundering $70 million in Guatemalan funds through US banks.

Portillo was taken from a military hospital where he had been recovering from liver surgery and a heart condition on Friday and boarded a plane bound for New York.

Portillo, who served as president from 2000-2004, was moved to the hospital from prison in April where he was awaiting a verdict over his extradition to the United States.

In a statement the US embassy described his extradition as "an important affirmation of the rule of law and due process in Guatemala."

The former president had been fighting extradition since 2011 when it was granted by former President Alvaro Colom. He faces charges in the United States of embezzling tens of millions of dollars of public funds and laundering the money through US and European banks.

He has dismissed the charges as "political persecution" carried out by powerful Guatemalan businessmen and the US government in retribution for his not bending to their interests.

A Guatemalan court found Portillo not guilty in 2011 of charges that he stole $15 million (11.6 million euros) from the country's defense department during his presidency. His exoneration was confirmed by an appeals court in April.

ccp/kms (Reuters, dpa, AFP)