Guatemala Court Rules to Extradite Ex-President Alfonso Portillo to US for Embezzlement Charges

Guatemala's Constitutional Court decided recently that ex-president Alfonso Portillo could be extradited to the United States on charges of money laundering and embezzling $1.5 million of foreign donations.

The ruling has been praised by U.S. authorities, with the U.S. Embassy saying the decision reflects the progress Guatemala's government is making against impunity.

The court's decision implies that Portillo will not be able to use an amparo - a law that protects against extradition, which allows extradition procedures to be delayed if the person alleges the process violates his or her constitutional rights.

Portillo has faced similar charges in his own country in the past. In 2008, Portillo was extradited from Mexico, a country where he had lived since 2004, to Guatemala, to face charges of embezzling $15.7 million in public funds in Guatemala's Defense Department.

According to the charges, Portillo supposedly perpetrated the crime from 2000 to 2004, while he was president.

However, in 2011, a Guatemalan court found Portillo not guilty of those charges. At the moment many critics rebuked the verdict as a setback of efforts to fight corruption in the country.

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, part of the United Nations, said following that decision that the ruling reflected corruption in the judicial system of the country.

"The verdict reflects the real state of justice in Guatemala…Guatemalan society must demand an impartial, equitable and independent judicial system. Nobody can be above the law."

The current case against Portillo was filed by a federal court in New York, charging him for participating in money laundering and embezzling $1.5 million, an amount donated by Taiwan to help Guatemalan children with school supplies.

According to InSight Crime, although the recent ruling by the Guatemalan court bars the possibility of using amparo, there are other legal options that Portillo could utilize in order to fight the extradition, including a request for habeas corpus, which could force the United States to withdraw the extradition order.

Although Guatemala's Constitutional Court ruled that Portillo could be extradited, it also stated that he could not be sent to a U.S. facility that houses violent offenders.

InSight Crime, which tracks the activity of organized crime in Latin America, has said that even though the court's decision this time was positive, the verdict to acquit Portillo last year "showed just how far Guatemala's judicial system needs to progress in order to take on these cases itself" without relying on extradition procedures.

This would be the first time that a Guatemalan president would face a conviction in a U.S. court.