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Ex-Guatemalan president released from prison in bribe case

DENVER (AP) — A former Guatemalan president who was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for accepting $2.5 million in bribes was released Wednesday from a U.S. minimum security facility in Colorado and was returning to his home country.

Alfonso Portillo was released from a suburban Denver prison. Accompanied by the Guatemalan consul in Denver, Portillo was taking commercial flights to Guatemala City, said Libna Bonilla, deputy chief of mission at the Guatemalan Embassy in Washington.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons confirmed Portillo’s release from the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, where he had been incarcerated since last year.

Details on Portillo’s travel plans, including when he was to arrive in Guatemala, weren’t immediately available.

Portillo was sentenced in federal court in New York in 2014 to nearly six years in prison for accepting $2.5 million in bribes. Bonilla said he was credited with time served in Guatemala, where he faces no further charges.

“He is considered a free man in Guatemala,” Bonilla said.

Portillo admitted accepting $2.5 million in bribes from the government of Taiwan to continue to recognize the Asian nation diplomatically.

Federal prosecutors said the bribes threatened the integrity of U.S. banks because Portillo laundered the money through U.S. financial institutions, making them “a vehicle for moving bad money.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fee said at sentencing that Portillo used the first half-million dollars he received from Taiwan to build a larger home for meetings and entertaining.

Taiwan’s government said at the time that it rejected ‘checkbook diplomacy.”

Portillo, 63, was Guatemala’s president from 2000 to 2004. He was extradited to the United States in 2013 and pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy in March 2014.

U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson also ordered Portillo to forfeit $2.5 million.

Portillo said he accepted the money from December 1999, shortly before he became president, until August 2002. He said he knew that the money from Taiwan came from an account at the International Bank of China in New York City.

In 2011, a Guatemalan court found Portillo not guilty of charges that he stole $15 million from Guatemala’s Defense Department.

After leaving office, Portillo fled to Mexico, where he was a financial adviser for a construction materials company. He was extradited from Mexico to Guatemala in 2008 to face the embezzlement charges and remained free until he was arrested in 2010 on the U.S. extradition request. He was captured at a beach preparing to flee Guatemala by boat.

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