Former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison in New York for attempting to launder millions in bribes from Taiwan through American banks, one year after being extradited to the United States for the crime.
According to Agence France-Presse, Portillo was sentenced this week after pleading guilty in March to the scheme. Portillo had attempted to launder $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan through a New York bank. The money was intended to convince the Guatemalan president to recognize Taiwan’s status as a sovereign nation over the protests of China. The news agency notes that Portillo received five checks for $500,000 each between 1999 and 2002 from Taiwan. He was president from 2000 to 2004.
Portillo has spent a significant time in jail and needs to serve only eighteen more months to complete his sentence. District judge Robert Patterson, the BBC notes, has not yet decreed whether that time would be served in the United States or Guatemala. Portillo described the trial as “a big learning experience for me but also great pain for my family” in court. In his final statement, Portillo declared that “all men make mistakes as well as achievements in life… at the end of a man’s life what matters is how the good deeds balance against the bad.”
Guatemala is among 22 nations that recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. Eleven of those states are in Central America and the Caribbean, and six are islands in Oceania.
Portillo was extradited to the United States last year and charged with laundering a significantly higher amount of money. The Associated Press notes that he initially faced charges of attempting to launder $70 million through American banks, not all of it from the Taiwanese government. He also faced charges in Guatemala of allegedly stealing $15 million from Guatemala’s Department of Defense. He faced up to twenty years in prison for those charges, though managed to reduce the maximum sentence by entering a guilty plea over the money from Taiwan.