San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.N. group seeks new trial for Guatemala's ex-president

GUATEMALA CITY – A United Nations commission said Tuesday it plans to challenge the acquittal this month of former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo, accused of embezzling $15 million in government funds.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, a UN-sponsored anti-corruption group working with federal authorities, known here under its Spanish acronym CICIG, said it is filing a petition seeking a retrial of the former leader.

The group said it will file an appeal asking the court to vacate the verdict and to hold a retrial “with different judges” from those in court proceedings earlier this month.

The Guatemala court on May 9 acquitted Portillo, 59, along with his defense and finance ministers, of embezzlement charges.

Prosecutors had sought a maximum 10-year sentence for each of the three defendants and asked that they be permanently banned from political life.

In its ruling, however, the court dismissed two key prosecution witnesses, saying they had lied under oath.

After finishing his four-year presidential term in January 2004 with strong public support, Portillo fled to El Salvador to dodge the corruption charges.

He then moved to Mexico in 2005 after losing his immunity from prosecution. Mexican authorities extradited him to Guatemala in October 2008.

The former president continues however to face money laundering charges in the United States, which is seeking his extradition.

In addition to the domestic corruption charges he was cleared of, Portillo, is accused of misappropriating some $75 million, allegedly laundered through bank accounts in the United States and Europe.

The former leader has always insisted he is innocent of all the charges against him and been fighting the US extradition request.

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