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Ex-Guatemala president pleads not guilty in NYC

NEW YORK (AP) – An ex-president of Guatemala accused of laundering tens of millions of dollars stolen from his country through U.S. bank accounts pleaded not guilty in New York on Tuesday, and his lawyer called the case “a clear case of over-reaching by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. government.”

Former President Alfonso Portillo, 61, appeared in federal court in Manhattan wearing a business suit and speaking in a hoarse voice, aided by a Spanish interpreter. He was extradited to the United States last week and remains in custody. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Portillo is accused of taking money from multiple sources, including funds from Taiwan that had been meant for buying books for Guatemalan school libraries, as well as money from the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense. Money was transferred to Miami bank accounts in the name of Portillo’s former wife and his daughter, according to an indictment.

Portillo was president from 2000 to 2004.

His attorney told the judge that a bail amount will be sought at the next court appearance. No date was set for that. He also said Portillo was on medication for a heart condition.

Portillo was taken from a military hospital last week. His extradition had been granted by former President Alvaro Colom as he left office in 2011 and was upheld by Guatemala’s highest court last year.

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.

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