On Friday the Constitutional Court of Guatemala upheld a ruling authorizing the extradition of former president Alfonso Portillo to the U.S. to face charges of laundering $70 million. President Álvaro Colom must now decide whether to approve the Court’s ruling or pardon Portillo, who served as president of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004.
In January of this year a federal grand jury in New York requested Portillo’s extradition under the claim that he embezzled Guatemalan public funds and hid the money in U.S. banks. There are also allegations that the former president laundered money through European accounts. Shortly after the U.S. indictment was made public, Portillo was captured by the Guatemalan police near the country’s Caribbean coast.
Portillo’s lawyer, Gabriel Orellana, argues that the Constitutional Court has overstepped its power by ruling on an issue that falls under the purview of the sitting president. It is the role of the president to implement foreign policy and diplomacy with other nations, he says—a terrain the Constitutional Court is now meddling in. Reacting to the judgment, Orellana told a local newspaper that the ruling “imposes several requirements on the U.S. that only the president can solicit.”
The Constitutional Court judges conditioned Portillo’s extradition on respect for his human rights and required that—in the event that he is found guilty—the former president fulfill his sentence in Guatemala.
The U.S Embassy in Guatemala said, “We applaud the efforts made by the Constitutional Court, the Attorney General’s Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.” Portillo is currently under house arrest and will remain so until President Colom decides on his future.