By Jim Kouri
President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala on Tuesday confirmed he was extraditing former President Alfonso Portillo to the United States, where he will be charged with money laundering by the U.S. Justice Department.
This case is the first time the United States will try a nation’s top leader for a criminal offense.
American law enforcement agents allege that Portillo, while President of Guatemala, embezzled upwards of $75 million that he laundered through bank accounts in the United States and European countries.
The 60-year old Portillo governed Guatemala from 2000 to 2004. He has consistently claimed he is innocent of all criminal charges.
The current President, Colom, stated during a major press conference that he approved the extradition and respected the judicial process on Portillo’s case. He noted that he had asked the Foreign Ministry to send Portillo’s file to Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice and the exact date of Portillo’s extradition will depend on the tribunal’s ruling.
In August 2011, the Supreme Court of Guatemala ratified the U.S. Justice Department extradition demand.
According to Guatemala’s penal code, that nation’s president has the last say once the tribunal approves the extradition of any Guatemalan national. In January 2004, after finishing his presidential term, Portillo fled to El Salvador to avoid prosecution for alleged corruption.
In 2005, Portillo then moved to Mexico when he lost his immunity from the prosecution. But Mexican authorities in turn extradited him back to Guatemala in October 2008.
In May 2011, Guatemala’s high court absolved Portillo of domestic embezzlement charges, but he remained in prison until the U.S. extradition process finished.
In addition, French law enforcement has an open and pending criminal case against President Portillo for money laundering, as they allege he illegally transferred funds to France.