U.S. accuses ex-president of Paraguay of graft and obstruction
ASUNCION, July 22 (Reuters) - The United States has accused former Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes of "significant corruption" and of obstructing a cross-border criminal investigation.
"Former President Cartes obstructed a major international investigation into transnational crime in order to protect himself and his criminal associate from potential prosecution and political damage," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, without naming the associate.
"These actions enabled and perpetuated Cartes' recently documented involvement with foreign terrorist organizations and other U.S.-designated entities," the statement said.
Cartes rejected the accusations in a post on Twitter. Dismissing them as "unfounded and unjust," he offered to provide information to U.S. authorities to clear up the matter.
Cartes, 66, owns a tobacco company and a sprawling retail empire, and was president of the landlocked South American country from 2013 to 2018. Believed to be one of Paraguay's richest men, Cartes recently announced a bid to lead the ruling Colorado Party and his faction's candidate has been tipped to win December's presidential election.
The three adult children of the former leader were also blacklisted for participating in corrupt acts, the Blinken statement said.
"This is shocking news for the country," said opposition Senator Esperanza Martinez in a phone interview, criticizing prosecutors for failing to take any action.
"This has to mark a before and after for Paraguayan justice," she said.
Earlier this year, ex-Attorney General Arnaldo Giuzzio accused Cartes of illegally smuggling cigarettes into Brazil and beyond using drug-trafficking routes, as well as for money laundering and illicit enrichment, accusations that the former president's representatives denied at the time.
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