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Guatemala’s ex-president charged in US

Associated Press / January 26, 2010

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NEW YORK - Alfonso Portillo, the fugitive former president of Guatemala, was charged in the United States yesterday with using foreign banks to launder millions of dollars plundered from charity and government coffers.

Portillo, 58, is accused of “converting the office of the Guatemalan presidency into his personal ATM,’’ US Attorney Preet Bharara of New York said in a statement.

The disgraced politician was already facing embezzlement charges in his own country. Authorities there declared him a fugitive yesterday after dozens of soldiers and police officers raided five of his properties but did not find him.

“He’s being sought because he allegedly embezzled funds from the state and from an aid fund sent by Taiwan for an educational project,’’ Judge Belgica Deras said.

Portillo’s lawyer, Telesforo Guerra, said his client won’t turn himself in. “He won’t face a judge and will run away from justice because this is a political process, not a judicial one,’’ Guerra said.

An indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan alleges the four-year scheme began in 2000, when Portillo began embezzling $1.5 million in donations from Taiwan meant to buy school library books.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.