Oxfam chief, Guatemalan ex-president held in corruption case
Guatemalan prosecutors say they have detained the current chairman of Oxfam International — also formerly the country’s finance minister — Alberto Fuentes Knight, the country’s former president, Alvaro Colom, and nearly his entire former cabinet in a corruption case involving a bus concession.
The global non-profit, currently engulfed in a prostitution scandal, said in a statement it did not know the nature of formal charges against Mr Fuentes.
“However,” it said, “he has been entirely open with his Oxfam board and executive that he has been among former officials being investigated as part of a budgetary transaction made by the Guatemalan government while he was finance minister.
“He has assured us that he has cooperated fully with the investigation in the confidence he did not knowingly transgress rules or procedures.”
The case centres on a public bus company known as Transurbano.
The Government auctioned off 25-year concessions for Guatemala City bus routes, and the private companies that won the contracts were later exempted from taxes.
Prosecutors said the process was deeply flawed and included subsidies and other measures that benefited public servants.
The United Nations anti-corruption mission in Guatemala participated in the investigation.
Chief prosecutor Thelma Aldana said investigators suspected the Government was defrauded out of $US35 million.
A number of Guatemalan ex-presidents and other high-ranking officials have been swept up in a series of corruption probes.
Number of former presidents under spotlight
Mr Colom, who governed from 2008 to 2012, is the latest in a series of former Guatemalan presidents to face legal problems.
He was recently named by the Organisation of American States as an envoy to Honduras in a bid to help sort out a highly disputed election there.
Mr Colom said as far as he knew, the concession was handled properly. He added that he hoped justice was done in the case.
Special prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval said those arrested faced charges of fraud and embezzlement.
Mr Sandoval said the detentions included the former ministers of the interior, finance, defence, economy, education, labour, environment, health, sports and culture, and energy and mines.
Among the cases high-ranking officials are embroiled in is a customs fraud scandal that allegedly sent kickbacks to then-president Otto Perez Molina and former vice-president Roxana Baldetti, leading both to resign in 2015.
They have been jailed awaiting trial, but more than 100 defence filings have delayed the process.
Alfonso Portillo, Guatemala’s president in 2000-2004, was extradited to the United States and pleaded guilty to money-laundering conspiracy in 2014.
Mr Portillo acknowledged taking $US2.5 million in bribes from the government of Taiwan to continue Guatemala’s diplomatic recognition of Taipei.
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