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Former Guatemalan minister charged in U.S. with laundering $10 million

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors charged Guatemalan former Economy Minister Asisclo Valladares on Wednesday with helping launder nearly $10 million in cash from drug traffickers and a corrupt politician.

Valladares, a prominent official in the administration of former President Jimmy Morales that ended in January, used the proceeds of the laundering scheme to bribe politicians in Guatemala, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan for the Southern District of Florida, in Miami, said in a statement released by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Valladares’ lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Valladares’ father, who is Guatemala’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, said they both had full confidence in the U.S. legal system and that his son would appear in court when required.

The charges against Valladares are partly based on the testimony of cooperating witnesses, including convicted drug traffickers and a bank employee.

“I see this as an act of revenge by drug traffickers,” the ambassador said, adding that he had combated traffickers when he worked as a prosecutor in the 1990s and that he believed they were targeting his son to hurt him.

Valladares, the former minister, has so far evaded a warrant issued in Guatemala for his arrest, despite an Interpol Red Notice for his capture.

Both of the Valladares were prominent opponents to the U.N.-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, (CICIG) which uncovered corruption in the highest reaches of Guatemalan society.

CICIG was driven from the country last year after an intense lobbying campaign by the government and allies. Valladares was named in two CICIG investigations.

The U.S. case against him details alleged cash deliveries that arrived in sports bags, or, during the festive season, hidden in boxes of liquor. The cash was passed on to lawmakers in Guatemala, the case alleges.

Initially, the origin of the money was another politician, but when his illicit funds ran out, Valladares turned to drug money to keep up the bribe payments to lawmakers, the case alleges.

Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Leslie Adler

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