[Translation of an article from La Hora of Guatemala for January 21. See original here. Alfonso Portillo was president of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004. He was elected as the candidate of the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco, the party of brutal dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, the military ruler who had come to power through a coup d’état in 1982. With political origins on the left, Portillo had pledged to support human rights and fight corruption but his administration was soon charged with serious abuse. He fled the country as soon as his term and the legal immunity it provided ended.]
by Gerson Ortiz
The historical trial of former President Alfonso Portillo and two officials of his government finally began this morning after a delay of several hours due to moves by the defense.
Along with the former president, former Defense Minister Eduardo Arévalo Lacs and former Finance Minister Manuel Maza Castellanos will also be tried, all three for the embezzlement during Portillo’s term in office of 120 million quetzales [about 15.6 million US dollars] from the Defense Ministry.
The begining of the trial was delayed for about two hours due to questions the tribunal had to resolve before finally opening the proceedings. Among these were an appeal submitted by Portillo’s lawyer, Telésforo Guerra, of the denial of a challenge against Morelia Ríos which the judges resolved yesterday.
This morning, hours before the beginning of the debate, Claudia Paz y Paz, prosecutor for the Interior Ministry, intervened personally with an appeal of the resolution by the Tribunal Undécimo de Primera Instancia [Eleventh Tribunal of the First Instance] releasing Maza Castellanos and Arévalo Lacs.
Paz specified, “The basis of the appeal is that we consider that allegations of fact that motivated preventive detention for these persons, that is, the danger of flight and the risk that they will obstruct the discovery of the truth.”
The Interior Ministry official reiterated that there is a danger of flight since Maza Castellanos “was a fugitive for more than six years in another trial for embezzlement.”
Paz added that in this trial there have also been “threats against members of the prosecutor’s office as well as the witnesses,” for which reason there is fear among the prosecutors for the witnesses as well as of the possiblity the accused will flee, she explained…
The charges read by the president of the tribunal specify that from February 27, 2001, to March 30 of that year “with the same criminal intent and in violation of norms that protect legal property (Portillo) played a direct role in the commission of the ascribed crimes.”
The charges indicate that Portillo took part in three withdrawals of ten million quetzales each, that furthermore the former president approved budget modifications favoring the Ministry of Defense by a total of 120 million quetzales through agreement 16-2001, an amount credited on February 28, 2001, to an account of the Finance Department of the army and later withdrawn in cash…