Guatemala signs historic extradition of former president to US

French court paves way for Panama's Noriega to be sent home to face charges

Guatemala's outgoing President Álvaro Colom has signed the extradition to the United States of a former president, Alfonso Portillo, who is facing money-laundering conspiracy charges.

Colom, who will be leaving office next January, also signed the extradition requests for three other Guatemalans who are wanted by US authorities, including two alleged members of the Mexican La Familia drug cartel.

Portillo, who served from 2000-2004, will be sent to face charges in a US District Court in New York, where he was indicted for using bank accounts to launder more than $70 million in Guatemalan public funds.

"We have ordered administrative proceedings for four extraditions to the United States, including that of citizen Alfonso Antonio Portillo Cabrera, who is facing money-laundering conspiracy charges," Colom told a news conference.

Guatemala's Constitutional Court approved the US extradition request in August after it considered that Portillo had exhausted all his appeals following his acquittal in May on other charges that he stole $15 million from the military.

Portillo will be the first Guatemalan former president to be extradited to the United States. In 1990, Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega was taken to Miami to face drug charges following a US military invasion ordered by President George H. W. Bush.

The formal extradition order will only have to be signed by the Constitutional Court before he is handed over to US authorities, which will be in the coming days. Following his 2008 arrest in Mexico, where he had been living since he left office to stand trial that he embezzled money from the military, the former rightwing president of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) party had been fighting extradition. While out on bail, he tried to escape to Belize but was captured.

Guatemala's President-elect Otto Pérez Molina, a former military general who won the November 6 runoff race, said that if Colom signed the extradition order he was "just following court orders."

"During my government, no one will be above the law," he declared.

Baudilio Hichos, leader of the Union for Nationalist Change (UCN), said he was against extraditing any Guatemalan nationals to the United States.

José Efraín Rios Montt, the leader of the FRG and former de facto president of Guatemala, said that while he considered Portillo to be his friend, the law must be complied with.

In Paris, meanwhile, an appeals court on Wednesday told the former Panamanian strongman Noriega, who has been held in a French jail since April 2010, that the US government would not block his request to be sent back to Panama.

Noriega, 77, who was sent to France following his release from a US prison, where he served a 17-year-sentence on drug-trafficking charges, had asked French judicial authorities to allow him to go back to Panama when he completed a money-laundering sentence in France.

In Panama, judicial authorities convicted him in absentia for murdering a rival and sentenced him to 20 years. They also want Noriega to stand trial for the alleged 1989 murder of a rival, Captain Moisés Giroldi, who tried to overthrow him.

Noriega's French lawyer, Antonin Lévi, said that the former dictator, who ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, wanted to be close to his family and should be home by Christmas.

In London, where he is on an official visit, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said that Noriega "is going straight to jail" once he arrives back in the country.

Guatemala´s former president, Alfonso Portillo.
Guatemala´s former president, Alfonso Portillo.
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