It’s not often that a former president of an entire nation is extradited to the United States on criminal charges, but that happened today as the feds took custody of former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo on money-laundering charges.
Portillo was president of the central American country from 2000 to 2004. He lived in exile in Mexico for some of the period following his presidency, and bitterly fought extradition to the U.S. He is now charged with conspiracy to launder some $70 million in Guatemalan government funds through U.S. banks.
The extradition recalls that of former Panamanian President Manuel Noriega, who served 15 years in U.S. federal prison for his role in a massive drug and money-laundering conspiracy. The U.S. actually invaded Panama in 1989 to remove him from power.
While in office, Portillo allegedly diverted $2.5 million in grants from the government of Taiwan from a program to purchase books for his country’s schools into accounts in his former wife’s name in Europe. He also allegedly stole $3.9 million from the Guatemalan defense department for personal expenses like a land purchase, a loan, and cash funneled through a third party who was in on the scam to a Miami bank. Millions more were stolen from the country’s national bank via a web of shell corporations to allow him and his friends to live the high life.
He faces 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. United States Attorney Preet Bharara said: “After three years of fighting his extradition, Alfonso Portillo has finally arrived in the United States to answer for his alleged misappropriation of millions of dollars intended for the benefit of the people of Guatemala.”