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Guatemala ex-leader due in US court Tuesday

Alfonso Portillo is extradited via aircraft to the US on May 24, 2013, in Guatemala City
Guatemalan ex-president Alfonso Portillo is taken under custody to be extradited via aircraft to the United States on May 24, 2013, in Guatemala City. Portillo, jailed in New York after being extradited from his home country, will face his first US court

Guatemalan ex-president Alfonso Portillo, jailed in New York after being extradited from his home country, will face his first US court hearing on Tuesday, officials said.

The 61-year-old, who faces charges he laundered $70 million of swindled government funds through US banks, was the first former Latin American leader ever to be extradited to the United States.

After arriving in the US on Friday, he was taken first to a hospital for a medical check, but was quickly discharged and transferred to a jail in southern Manhattan, the consulate said.

US prosecutors in Manhattan have so far not confirmed the hearing date indicated by Guatemala's foreign ministry.

Consul Oscar Padilla planned to return to the detention facility on Sunday to visit Portillo, who suffers from heart and lung ailments, after he was unable to see ex-president the night before for unspecified reasons.

Portillo was picked up unannounced on Friday from a military hospital in Guatemala City, where he had been convalescing in recent weeks, and rushed to the main Air Force base south of the capital under heavy protection, where he was flown to New York.

The plane used to extradite Guatemalan ex-president Alfonso Portillo is seen at Guatemala City airport on May 24, 2013
The plane used to extradite former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo is seen at Guatemala City airport on May 24, 2013.

Washington welcomed the extradition as "an important affirmation of the rule of law and due process in Guatemala."

Portillo, who ruled Guatemala from 2000 to 2004, was indicted by a US grand jury on charges of embezzling tens of millions of dollars of public funds and laundering the money through US and European banks, including $1.5 million intended for Guatemalan school children.

He faces a sentence of up to 20 years if convicted.

But the ex-president, who has been fighting extradition since it was approved by then president Alvaro Colom in 2011, has called the case against him "political persecution."

"They have acted illegally against me from the beginning. They have violated all my rights," he declared as he boarded the plane headed for the United States, adding that the government was "responsible for anything that may happen to my health."

Although he is the first to be extradited, Portillo is not the first Latin American ex-leader to wind up in the US facing criminal charges.

Panama's former dictator Manuel Noriega was ousted by US troops in 1989, convicted on drug trafficking charges and jailed in Florida for 20 years.

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