Guatemala arrests ex-president, ex-finance minister in graft probe

Former Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom arrives to court escorted by policemen after being detained as part of a local corruption investigation, in Guatemala City, Guatemala February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Fabricio Alonzo

Former Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom and a former finance minister who is now chairman of Oxfam International were arrested on Tuesday as part of a local corruption investigation, the public prosecutor’s office said.

“One of the 10 people detained in today’s operation is the ex-president of the republic, Alvaro Colom,” Juan Francisco Sandoval, chief anti-corruption officer at the public prosecutor’s office, said on local radio.

Juan Alberto Fuentes, a former finance minister who is currently chairman of Oxfam International, was also among those arrested, prosecutors said. Fuentes’ arrest ratchets up the pressure on the British charity, already reeling after reports of sex abuse by aid workers in Haiti.

Fuentes has “assured us that he has cooperated fully with the investigation in the confidence he did not knowingly transgress rules or procedures,” Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said in a statement.

Colom, 66, was president of Guatemala from 2008 to 2012. The corruption investigation is looking at buses bought during his administration for a large public transport program.

“We think everything was legal, but let’s wait and see what the judge says,” Colom said as he entered the courthouse, flanked by police.

The eight other people arrested were Colom’s former ministers who signed the deal to purchase the buses.

Current President Jimmy Morales, a former television comedian who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, came under fire last year from the United Nations, the European Union and the U.S. ambassador in Guatemala for attempting to expel a U.N.-backed prosecutor seeking to put him on trial for alleged corruption.

The investigation into allegations of illicit campaign financing, which followed separate graft probes into members of the president’s family, had threatened Morales with impeachment. He escaped that fate but his authority has been seriously hampered.

Morales’ predecessor, former president Otto Perez, is currently behind bars, awaiting trial on graft charges.

Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Additional reporting by William Schomberg in London; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe

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