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.”


Taliban’s Ghazni assault sparks new Pak-Afghan tensions

Updated 39 min 6 sec ago
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Taliban’s Ghazni assault sparks new Pak-Afghan tensions

  • Pakistan’s Foreign Office says Afghanistan has not shared any evidence to support its recent allegations against Pakistan
  • Imran Khan’s idea of a soft border between Pakistan and Afghanistan may have suffered a big setback in the wake of the Ghazni attack

PESHAWAR: In the backdrop of the Taliban’s brazen assault on the southern city of Ghazni in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani alleged that the bodies of the perpetrators had arrived in Pakistan, though Islamabad maintained that Kabul had not officially shared any information or evidence in this regard.
Soon after that, the Afghan president said in a fiery speech to a jirga in Ghazni: “I have a message for Pakistan. Dead bodies (of the Taliban) have arrived in (Pakistan). Peace cannot be forcefully imposed on Afghanistan. Where did they (Taliban) come from and why are they being treated in (Pakistani) hospitals?”
But Pakistan strongly rejected reports claiming that some Taliban fighters involved in the Ghazni attack had been offered medical treatment in its hospitals.
In the absence of any official communication through regular channels established bilaterally, such reports cannot be given any credence, said Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday.
Haq Nawaz, a senior Peshawar-based security analyst, told Arab News that the newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan faced a string of daunting challenges, such as economic revival, political stability, tackling corruption, and improving relations with his country’s immediate neighbors.
However, he added that recent developments in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have stepped up violent activities, will probably constitute a much bigger predicament for the new political administration.
He recalled that Khan had mentioned in his victory speech that he wanted a European Union-style soft border with Afghanistan, claiming that the idea had seemingly received a setback after the Ghazni attack.
“The latest bout of allegations will have a negative impact on the process of reviving good relations between the two neighboring countries,” Nawaz noted.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa also expressed “deep concern” over the recent surge in violence in Afghanistan and lamented in a statement released by the military’s media wing the loss of precious lives.
Bajwa reiterated that Pakistan was not supporting terrorist activities inside Afghanistan. He added that the allegation about the movement of injured or dead terrorists from Ghazni to Pakistan was incorrect.
However, the army chief noted that there were scores of Pakistanis working in Afghanistan, and that some of them periodically fell victim to acts of terrorism along with their Afghan brothers inside Afghanistan. “Terming such victims as terrorists is unfortunate,” he maintained.
Yet, the Afghan president sought an explanation from Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership on the Ghazni attack.
“Imran Khan, you are the son of Pashtun parents. Investigate this and give me an answer. General Bajwa, you have repeatedly given me assurances over phone calls that special attention would be given to the issue of peace in Afghanistan once elections took place in Pakistan. Now give me an answer,” Ghani said while addressing a group of tribal elders attending the jirga.
Bajwa said that different factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan hiding in their sanctuaries in Afghanistan after assuming Afghan identities, were transported to Pakistan for medical help after receiving injuries.
Nawaz said the Afghan government should share relevant evidence with Pakistan in this case, arguing that using the media or social media to deal with such serious and sensitive developments can worsen the situation.
He said it was not just a statement or allegation from an ordinary official since the claim was made by a head of state, adding that both countries should settle such teething issues through dialogue and diplomatic channels.
However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted in its statement: “Such reports can only be viewed as malicious propaganda to vitiate the existing cooperation between the two countries.”