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Ex-Guatemalan president freed from US prison in bribery case

February 25, 2015

DENVER (AP) — A former Guatemalan president who was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for accepting $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan was released Wednesday from a U.S. prison and was returning to his home country.

Alfonso Portillo was released from a suburban Denver prison where he had been incarcerated since last year. The former president was credited with time served in Guatemala, where he faces no further charges, said Libna Bonilla, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission in Washington.

“He is considered a free man in Guatemala,” Bonilla said.

Accompanied by the Guatemalan consul in Denver, Portillo was taking commercial flights to Guatemala City, Bonilla said.

Portillo was sentenced in federal court in New York in 2014 to nearly six years in prison for accepting $2.5 million in bribes from the government of Taiwan to continue to recognize the Asian nation diplomatically.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons confirmed Portillo’s release from the minimum-security Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood.

Portillo admitted accepting the bribes from Taiwan’s government.

Federal prosecutors said the bribes threatened the integrity of U.S. banks because Portillo laundered the money through U.S. financial institutions, making them “a vehicle for moving bad money.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fee said at sentencing that Portillo used the first half-million dollars he received from Taiwan to build a larger home for meetings and entertaining.

Taiwan’s government said at the time that it rejected ’checkbook diplomacy.”

Portillo, 63, was Guatemala’s president from 2000 to 2004. He was extradited to the United States in 2013 and pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy in March 2014.

U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson also ordered Portillo to forfeit $2.5 million.

Portillo said he accepted the money from December 1999, shortly before he became president, until August 2002. He said he knew that the money from Taiwan came from an account at the International Bank of China in New York City.

In 2011, a Guatemalan court found Portillo not guilty of charges that he stole $15 million from Guatemala’s Defense Department.

After leaving office, Portillo fled to Mexico, where he was a financial adviser for a construction materials company. He was extradited from Mexico to Guatemala in 2008 to face the embezzlement charges and remained free until he was arrested in 2010 on the U.S. extradition request. He was captured at a beach preparing to flee Guatemala by boat.

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