The extradition to the U.S. of former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo has once again put that country’s justice system in the news. This comes in the heels of a court decision overturning the conviction of another former president, José Efraín Ríos Montt.
Portillo stands accused of laundering $70 million of public fundsduring his presidencythrough many banks, which ended up deposited in family accounts.
The Guatemalan government already extradited Portillo from Mexico once to face corruption charges, of which he was exonerated. Based on this, the former leader is claiming that he is innocent and has fallen victim to a political attack by Guatemalans and the American right.
In all this, the sudden way that Otto Pérez Molina’s government extradited Portillo last Friday is debatable, especially if there are still legal appeals pending.
Moreover, Pérez Molina’s statement, that Portillo was able to leave the country only “because he had no cases pending” in Guatemala does not in itself explain the forceful extradition of a former president to another country on corruption charges.
Some observers have commented that this action is distracting public attention from the judicial fiasco of the Ríos Montt case, which must go to trial again. Given the circumstances, that is not unlikely.
Corruption is a serious issue in Guatemala. The extradition of a former president sends an unequivocaland healthymessage to all public officials: no one is out of reach. However, apparently, it is up to a New York court to decide whether Portillo is responsible for embezzling funds and socking them away in banks or just the victim of a political maneuver.