Washington — It isn't often that a Latin leader is unmasked in this way.
But federal law enforcement agents traced former Guatemala President Alfonso Portillo's maneuverings of over a decade ago and put the collar on him. He pleaded guilty on March 18th to funneling $2.5 million through a Miami bank, an attempt to conceal bribes for agreeing to recognize the government of Taiwan diplomatically, the Justice Department announced.
It all came into public view as Portillo stood before a federal judge in New York and pleaded guilty to a single count of money laundering, after being extradited to the United States by the government of Guatemala.
"Former President Alfonso Portillo may have thought his position of power prevented him from having to answer for accepting multimillion-dollar bribes to shape his country's foreign policy, for embezzling money intended to benefit the Guatemalan people and for using U.S. banks to launder the ill-gotten funds," said Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. "With his guilty plea today, Portillo now stands convicted in an American court for his criminal conduct."
According to the indictment and Portillo's plea he agreement, Portillo received five bribery checks from the Taiwanese embassy in Guatemala between 2000 and August 2002, while serving as president.
"I understood that, in exchange for these payments, I would use my influence to have Guatemala continue to recognize Taiwan diplomatically," Portillo said as part of the agreement.
Three of the checks, totaling $1.5 million, were delivered in 2000 and endorsed personally by Portillo, prosecutors said. He then arranged for their deposit "in a bank account in Miami," the Justice Department said.
Two more checks, totaling $1 million, were issued in 2002, made payable to Oxxy Financial Corp. They were deposited at the International Bank of Miami, in an account held by Oxxy Financial. Portillo said that those transactions were "designed, in part, to conceal and disguise the source and ownership of the money."
From Miami, more than $1.5 million of the money was eventually moved to bank accounts held by his former wife and daughter at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) in Paris, then laundered through other financial institutions in Luxembourg, Switzerland and other places, the government said.
Portillo faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 million.