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.”


Over 50,000 Afghan troops deployed to secure election

Updated 23 min 17 sec ago
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Over 50,000 Afghan troops deployed to secure election

  • The Taliban has threatened to disrupt the poll, which has been delayed by more than three years and is viewed as crucial for the country’s stability
  • More than 2,000 polling centers will remain shut on election day due to security threats, the government said

KABUL: The Afghan government has deployed more than 50,000 troops to secure parliamentary elections that will be held on Saturday, officials said on Monday. 

The Taliban has threatened to disrupt the poll, which has been delayed by more than three years and is viewed as crucial for the country’s stability. Afghanistan’s last elections were marred by allegations of widespread rigging. 

“All security arrangements have been made,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh.

“We have enough troops to deal with any security threat, and more than 50,000 security personnel — including police, army and intelligence — have been deployed and put on high alert.”

US-led troops will have no direct role in providing security during the voting, but will advise and assist Afghan forces if necessary, officials said.

A wave of attacks have hit election rallies and claimed scores of lives, including at least nine candidates.

More than 2,000 polling centers will remain shut on election day due to security threats, the government said.

Watchdogs and candidates say with the expansion of Taliban control and the spread of Daesh activities, even regions in the north and northeast that were safe during previous polls are now under threat.

“Almost two-thirds of voters in (the northern province of) Faryab will not be able to vote… after insecurity prevented them from registering,” the Afghan Analyst Network (AAN), a foreign-funded think thank, said in a recent report. “In 2014, Faryab province had one of the highest audited turnouts in the country.” 

Voting cannot take place in the central province of Ghazni due to political and tribal tensions, and turnout will be very low in at least four provinces in the southwest that have seen a rise in deadly Taliban attacks in recent days, tribal elders said.

“This year’s parliamentary elections were never going to be easy,” AAN said. “Nationwide, disenchantment with elections themselves, after the disastrous 2014 poll, has been coupled with a resurgent Taliban, who by controlling more districts than four years ago have been able to prevent millions of Afghans from even registering to vote.”

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said all sensitive and non-sensitive materials have been dispatched to more than 5,000 polling stations, and the transportation of biometric devices will be completed in the coming days.

But some observers and candidates say the biometric devices are not connected to a data center, allowing people to vote multiple times.

Under pressure from political parties, the government bought the devices from abroad in order to hinder election fraud.

They “will make fraud a little harder, but it is still possible,” said civil rights activist Ahmad Shuja.

IEC spokesman Sayed Hafizullah Hashimi said watchdogs, observers and the media will monitor election day.

The Taliban last week urged its fighters to “halt this American-led process throughout the country… while taking… care of civilian Afghan lives and their properties.”

The new US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, held his first direct talks with the Taliban in Doha on Friday.