A former Guatemalan president accused of laundering money through U.S. bank accounts was extradited on Friday to face federal charges in New York City.
Alfonso Portillo allegedly used American accounts to launder more than $70 million in Guatemalan funds. The ailing former president, who has a heart condition and recently had liver surgery, was transported from a military hospital and placed on a plane bound for New York after a stop in Miami, according to his lawyer Mauricio Berreondo.
"I blame the government for what could happen to him," Berreondo said. "Portillo is sick and there are several pending appeals."
He said one appeal had to do with establishing the state of Portillo's health.
Portillo, who was Guatemala's president from 2000-2004, was taken out of the hospital on orders of Interior Secretary Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, Borreondo said.
An Associated Press reporter saw a small white jet carrying Portillo take off late morning local time.
"This decision is an important affirmation of the rule of law and due process in Guatemala," the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala said in a statement. "We commend the Guatemalan authorities in the strengthening of rule of law and the fight against organized crime and corruption."
Portillo was turned over to U.S. authorities in the same week that the high court threw out a genocide conviction in another high-profile case against an ex-president, former dictator Efrain Rios Montt. That decision has been widely questioned and criticized, including in the United States.
Guatemala has been struggling to build a credible justice system, including with the help of a U.N.-sanctioned team of international prosecutors.
In the U.S. case, Portillo allegedly deposited the money in Miami and transferred it to a Paris account in the name of his ex-wife and daughter.
Guatemala's highest court upheld the extradition last August after it was granted by former President Alvaro Colom as he left office in 2011.
Portillo has called the proceedings a political reprisal by powerful Guatemalan businessmen and the U.S. government for not bending to their interests. He has also said the court agreeing to his extradition constitutes a violation of his human rights.
Upon leaving office in 2004, Portillo fled to Mexico, where he began working as a financial adviser for a construction materials company.
He was extradited from Mexico to Guatemala in 2008 to face embezzlement charges at home.
Portillo was found not guilty in 2011 in Guatemala of charges that he stole $15 million from the country's Defense Department during his presidency.
In 2010, police captured Portillo at a beach preparing to flee Guatemala by boat, a day after U.S. authorities charged him with laundering money.
While running for president in Guatemala in 1999, Portillo acknowledged he had killed two of his former students while a professor in the Mexican state of Guerrero in 1982.
He said the killings were in self-defense and he fled the state because he could not get a fair trial. The case has since been closed, and he can no longer be charged in those killings.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.