Under an extradition treaty, a US federal court had previously issued a warrant for the arrest of former-president Alfonso Portillo (served 2000-2003) for money laundering. Though Portillo already faces criminal charges in Guatemala, he has been out on bail for over a year now. This freedom ended on Tuesday when he was detained by Guatemalan authorities who promptly began proceedings to extradite him to the United States. However, though extradition involves the transfer of a prisoner between two countries, Portillo’s lawyers claimed that a third-party also had to agree to these proceedings—Mexico.
Portillo fled his native country for Mexico in 2004 to avoid punishment for embezzling over $15 million in public funds. Four years later, he was arrested and handed over to Guatemala (under an extradition treaty between the two countries). His defense lawyers claim that because Mexico was responsible for Portillo’s transfer to Guatemala, which enabled the latter to extradite him to the United States, Mexico is involved and must approve the current extradition proceedings.
This is not the only argument made by Portillo’s attorneys. They also claim that a head of state cannot be extradited from Guatemala, deny that he participated in money laundering in the US, and is accused of acts committed during his presidency (during which he had a degree of diplomatic immunity). While these legal issues get resolved, Portillo is being held in a Guatemalan prison specially designated for government officials. In fact, among Portillo’s prison mates are some of his former cabinet members and other officials. Whether his surroundings will change soon remains to be seen.