Guatemala: Ex-economy minister sought on graft charges

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GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A former economy minister was declared a fugitive from justice Thursday, a day after he appeared in court to face corruption allegations.

Chief anti-impunity prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval said Acisclo Valladares Urruela was not at his residence when authorities went there in the morning with an arrest warrant on charges of illicit association and money laundering.

“The ex-minister appeared yesterday and gave an address, and upon searching for him at that address he was not located,” Sandoval said. “That does not express a willingness to submit himself to the process.”

Valladares was economy minister in then-President Jimmy Morales’ administration until Tuesday, when new President Alejandro Giammattei was inaugurated and a new Congress was sworn in. As a sitting Cabinet official, Valladares had enjoyed immunity from prosecution under Guatemalan law.

Appearing in court Wednesday, he said that he intended to “clear up” his situation.

“I submit myself to justice,” he said. “Before I could not because I had immunity as economy minister.”

Prosecutors allege that between 2012 and 2015, lawmakers received bribes through then-Vice President Roxana Baldetti in return for passing various bills, including one which benefited the telecom TIGO. Valladares, who at the time was the company’s legal representative, is alleged to have given money to Baldetti to be relayed to the lawmakers.

The announcement signaled that for a second day after the change of government, which opened up previously shielded officials to investigation and prosecution, authorities were continuing to move against people suspected of corruption.

The former mayor of the department, or province, of Quiche was detained in a case of purported illicit electoral financing from the 2015 campaign.

On Wednesday a newly former national lawmaker was arrested and four more were declared fugitives, wanted on suspicion of graft.

Baldetti and then-President Otto Pérez Molina were forced to resign in 2015 amid fraud and corruption charges. Both remain behind bars.

During his inaugural address on Tuesday, Giammattei announced the creation of a presidential anti-graft commission to continue the work of the now-defunct U.N. commission known as Cicig, which was shut down by Morales after it investigated him, family members and associates.

Also Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala announced that so far this year the United States has revoked the visas of more than two dozen people, including former government officials due to criminal activity.

The embassy said visas are revoked in cases of alleged corruption, human rights violations, drug trafficking, money laundering and people trafficking.

It added that last year about 250 Guatemalans had their visas taken away.

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