Guatemala arrests ex-president, Oxfam chairman in graft probe

Former Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has been arrested pending an investigation into buses bought during his administration for a large public transport program. (AP Photo)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Guatemala arrests ex-president, Oxfam chairman in graft probe

GUATEMALA CITY: Former Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom and a former finance minister who is now chairman of Oxfam International were arrested on Tuesday as part of a local corruption investigation, the public prosecutor’s office said.
The arrests mark the latest chapter in a long-running series of United Nations-backed graft probes in the poor, violent Central American country that have ensnared current and former presidents.
Juan Alberto Fuentes, the chairman of Oxfam International, was among many former members of Colom’s cabinet who were arrested, prosecutors said. His detention ratchets up pressure on the British charity, already reeling over sexual misconduct accusations in Haiti and Chad.
“These 10 people were arrested for alleged crimes of embezzlement and fraud,” said Matias Ponce, a spokesman for the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which has taken the lead in pursuing high-level corruption cases in Guatemala.
In a statement, Oxfam defended Fuentes.
“The investigation relates to a budgetary transaction made by the Guatemalan government while he was Finance Minister in a previous administration,” Oxfam said. “Fuentes maintains his innocence and assures us that he has cooperated fully.”
Colom, 66, was president of Guatemala from 2008 to 2012. The investigation is looking at buses bought during his administration for a large public transport program.
“We think everything was legal, but let’s wait and see what the judge says,” Colom said as he entered the courthouse.
The eight other people arrested were Colom’s former ministers who signed the deal to purchase the buses.
Colom is not the first Guatemalan leader to face graft accusations.
Current President Jimmy Morales, a former television comedian, came under fire last year from the UN, the European Union and the US ambassador in Guatemala for attempting to expel the CICIG prosecutor seeking to put him on trial for alleged corruption.
The investigation into allegations of illicit campaign financing, which followed separate graft probes into members of the president’s family, had threatened Morales with impeachment. He escaped that fate but his authority has been seriously undermined.
Morales’ predecessor, former President Otto Perez, is currently behind bars, awaiting trial on graft charges uncovered by CICIG.
Lawmaker Carlos Barreda said there was widespread support for those who had been arrested.
“There are many ministers who don’t have anything to do with the (bus) project,” he told reporters. “This action by the public prosecutor and CICIG seems out of proportion.”


Spanish emergency services working to rescue toddler trapped in well

Updated 10 min 43 sec ago
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Spanish emergency services working to rescue toddler trapped in well

  • Among debris pulled out of the well, rescuers found hair, which DNA tests confirmed belonged to the child
  • Emergency services are using cameras to try to locate the child but said access was difficult, with soil partially blocking the well

TOTALAN, Spain: Spanish emergency services were working to rescue a toddler trapped in a well since Sunday.
The two-year-old boy was seen falling into the well as his family walked through a private estate in Totalan, Malaga, in southern Spain, his father Jose told Spanish media.
Among debris pulled out of the well, rescuers found hair, which DNA tests confirmed belonged to the child. No signs of life have been detected.
The town’s residents turned out on Wednesday for a vigil to support the family, many holding homemade placards reading “All of Spain is with you” and “We are sending you our strength.” One man held a sign simply reading “Julen,” the name of the toddler.
Emergency services are using cameras to try to locate the child but said access was difficult, with soil partially blocking the well, which is just 25 cm (10 inches) wide and 100 meters (328 feet) deep.
“We are not only giving voice for all the residents of Totalan but also for the rest of the country because we have all had Julen in our minds since last Sunday,” resident Patricia Calderon told reporters.
Spanish police said members of a Swedish firm which helped locate 33 Chilean miners rescued after 69 days underground more than seven years ago had arrived on Tuesday to help in the rescue operation.
Alternative routes were being studied and officials said they were working to dig a tunnel next to the well.