San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemala orders ex-president extradited to U.S.

GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom on Tuesday ordered ex-President Alfonso Portillo extradited to the United States to face money laundering charges.

The U.S. government has accused Portillo, president from 2000 to 2004, of embezzling some $70 million, which he allegedly laundered through bank accounts in the U.S. and Europe.

Portillo, 60, insists he is innocent of the charges.

Colom said in a press conference that he signed the paperwork for four extraditions, “including citizen Alfonso Portillo Cabrera.”

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, the country’s court of last resort, authorized Portillo’s extradition on Aug. 26, and Colom said his decision to sign the extradition paperwork is based on the separation of government powers.

“In the case of ex-President Portillo, the court ruling is clear, and the president should not stick his nose in decisions made by judges and magistrates,” Colom said.

Portillo was a member of the Guatemalan Republican Front, the right-wing party led by former Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, accused in Spain of genocide during his 1982-1983 dictatorship.

After finishing his 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.

A Guatemalan court in May acquitted Portillo, along with his former defense and finance ministers, of separate domestic embezzlement charges. Portillo, however, remained in prison while the U.S. extradition request was processed.

Colom on Tuesday also authorized the extradition to the U.S. of Edgar Estrada Morales and Víctor Estrada Paredes for drug trafficking, and Sergio Ruano Marroquín for murder.

Colom, a center-left politician, leaves the presidency on Jan. 14 when retired Gen. Otto Pérez Molina takes office.

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