January 21, 2018 / 3:31 PM / 9 months ago

Guatemala businessman to face graft charges after U.S. deportation

Jan 21 (Reuters) - Former Guatemalan presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon was detained while trying to enter the United States without a visa and is awaiting deportation, the Central American nation’s prosecutor’s office said on Sunday, adding he would face graft charges upon his return.

Baldizon, a wealthy businessman who ran for president twice, was detained at the airport in Miami on Saturday after flying in from the Dominican Republic, according to prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Yesenia Enriquez. His deportation is expected to be swift.

On his return to Guatemala, Baldizon will face accusations of illicit association, bribery and money laundering, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. The charges are part of a giant corruption scandal that involves Brazilian construction company Odebrecht SA and has claimed high-level political scalps across the region.

The statement said former Infrastructure Minister and brief presidential candidate Alejandro Sinibaldi was also wanted on suspected corruption charges related to the investigation, and was now a fugitive.

The prosecutor’s office did not give any information on the link with Odebrecht, which has admitted to paying multimillion-dollar bribes across Latin America and has already spent $3.5 billion for settlements in the United States, Brazil and Switzerland.

Enriquez said it was unclear which U.S. federal department was holding Baldizon.

The prosecutor’s office carried out 10 raids on Saturday and arrested three people as part of the Odebrecht investigation, the statement added.

In 2016, the head of Guatemala’s special anti-corruption prosecutor’s office told Reuters he had already been investigating Odebrecht’s bribes to a government official, and President Jimmy Morales said his administration would check all of the company’s contracts.

Guatemala has long struggled with political corruption.

In August, Morales came under fire for attempting to expel a United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala 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 to condemn Morales to impeachment.

With powers to prepare crime and corruption cases, the commission was instrumental in removing former President Otto Perez Molina from office in 2015 after identifying him as a key player in an alleged multibillion-dollar graft scheme. (Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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