Former Guatemalan leader pleads guilty to taking Taiwanese bribes

The current president claims that Taiwanese donations are more transparent in Guatemala today than they were 14 years ago.

Jane Rosenberg/Reuters
Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo (middle) appears before Judge Robert Patterson (r.) in court in New York in this March 18, 2014 court sketch.

Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo admitted in a New York City courtroom that he accepted $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan in exchange for his country's continued recognition of the island in its ongoing dispute with China. He'll receive somewhere between four and six years in prison for this.

President Otto Perez Molina claims that these "open secret[s]" are a thing of the past and that relations with Taiwan and donations from them are more transparent. We shall see. While they did happen fourteen years ago, it is not clear when the bribes stopped – President Berger? President Colom? I can't say that former President Portillo's guilty plea is making former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores feel comfortable right now.

It's bad for democracy and for the people of Guatemala and El Salvador that their leaders have taken bribes from Taiwan in return for continued diplomatic recognition. On the other hand, if that's all that they are being accused of, I guess it feels like a bit of a letdown. What ... I am more concerned with now is an investigation into the Guatemalan judicial process that found Portillo not guilty. What, if any, shady transactions went on to ensure his release?
In other criminal extradition news, [suspected Guatemalan drug trafficker] Waldemar Lorenzana has now joined Portillo in the United States. Mr. Lorenzana was arrested in Guatemala in 2011 and his extradition to the US was approved in 2012. Lorenzana allegedly was involved in drug trafficking along the border with El Salvador and Honduras. He also has ties to the Sinaloa Cartel.
 Steven Dudley explains why Lorenzana is known as the "Patriarch."

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