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Paraguay opens criminal case against former president and current vice-president

Paraguay opens criminal case against former president and current vice-president
Photo: AP

March 24 |

Paraguay’s attorney general on Thursday opened a criminal case against a former president and the current vice president over US allegations that they were involved in corruption and had links to a terrorist group.

Attorney General Emiliano Rolón Fernández said a task force will examine U.S. allegations that former President Horacio Cartes and current Vice President Hugo Velázquez “undermined the stability of Paraguay’s democratic institutions” due to “their involvement in significant corruption.”

Cartes and Velázquez have previously denied the allegations.

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Separately, the US government placed three individuals on a list of officials implicated in “acts of corruption” and banned them from entering the US along with members of their immediate families. The list, begun in 2019, now totals nine officials.

Washington made explosive allegations in January that Cartes and Velazquez had ties to the Middle Eastern extremist group Hezbollah, designated by the US as a terrorist organization.

The United States has long maintained that the tri-border region between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is a hub for financing terrorism with laundered money from illicit activities. It has also identified alleged Hezbollah members using front companies in the region to finance terrorist activities in the Middle East.

The U.S. government also accused Cartes, described as one of Paraguay’s wealthiest men, of widespread bribery of officials and lawmakers.

The officials included on Thursday on the corruption list were former head of the National Directorate of Civil Aeronautics Edgar Melgarejo; Jorge Bogarín, a member of a panel that disciplines judges and prosecutors; and judicial secretary Vicente Ferreira.

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The designations came after the State Department received credible information that Melgarejo embezzled public funds for personal gain during his tenure and that Bogarían and Ferreira interfered in judicial proceedings for their personal benefit.

“Acts of corruption such as these contribute to the decline of trust in government and the public perception of corruption and impunity within the office of the vice president of Paraguay,” U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Marc Ostfield said Thursday.

Melgarejo told local press he was surprised by the designation and said he was unaware of the reasons why the United States included him on the list of those implicated in corruption.

Paraguay’s prosecutor will also examine corruption allegations against Juan Carlos Duarte, legal advisor to the entity that runs the binational Yaciretá dam, jointly owned by Argentina and Paraguay, in the investigation.

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Six of those countries then belonged to the Soviet bloc, including the Czech Republic and Slovakia, then united in a single country, Czechoslovakia.

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