Updated 08:50 PM EST, Wed, Jan 20, 2021

Guatemalan Ex-President Alfonso Portillo Pleaded Not Guilty To Money Laundering Charges

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Guatemalan ex-president Alfonso Portillo pleaded not guilty to the charges of money laundering presented by the U.S. government.

In a 10-minute hearing behind closed doors in the South Court of New York, Portillo waived the right to hear the charges, as his lawyer had advised him, and made his not guilty plea to the judge.

Portillo's defense asked Judge Robert Patterson for a hearing which will determine if he can post bail within two weeks, however no specific date was set for the plea. The next scheduled court date is in September.

Portillo is accused of embezzling millions of dollars of public funds from both Guatemalans international aid, to private accounts in the U.S. and Europe.

"Former President Portillo has been extradited to the United States for money laundering offenses. During his administration, Mr. Portillo used our system to launder illegal profits, which is a violation of a law which the DEA aggressively pursues," the anti-drug agency said in a statement.

American authorities are running three differents investigations in which Portillo is the centerpiece of various fraudulent actions which benefitied him and several accomplices during his tenure (2000-2004).

The first case involves a donation made by the government of Taiwan for $2,500,000 for a program of community libraries. Portillo allegedly cashed three cheques that were transferred directly to an account in Miami in 2000.

"None of the funds from the government of Taiwan were directed to the Libraries for Peace," the indictment said. "Nearly a million dollars of the donation was ultimately diverted through a series of transactions and transfers in order to conceal the source and origin of the funds." These funds were in fact directed to the accounts of his ex-wife and his daughter in Paris.

The second case was a misappropriation of about $3,900,000 from the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense through the National Mortgage financial institution (CHN), which was identified as one of the "participants" in the fraud, according to the DEA.

"Portillo led the disbursement of military funds to, amongst other things, fund a private land deal, disguise a loan to an associate, and to write cheques through Miami accounts to a company controlled by another co-conspirator" in a similar way.

In a third investigation, U.S. authorities suspect that Portillo embezzled funds from CHN through the accounts of the suspects, who did not have sufficient funds but were publicly funded.

The account was allegedly used by Portillo to "buy, among other things, various personal items, including expensive watches and cars, for himself and his partners."

The president has always denied the allegations. "It is a revenge plotted by the richest group of the American right," he said in an interview with CNN in Spanish in January. "They're doing this because I was the only president who did not support the invasion of Iraq."

The prosecutor Preet Bharara, the man in charge of the case, said that the president arrives in the United States "to answer for his alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars that were originally intended to benefit the population of Guatemala."

The DEA reported that, under the current law, Portillo could face 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine or a sum totalling twice the value of the resources that he has misappropriated.

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