Corruption Probe of Former President of Paraguay

Corruption Probe of Former President of Paraguay

23 Mar 2023 ( APNews )

Paraguay’s attorney general launched a criminal investigation Thursday into U.S. allegations that a former Paraguayan president and the current vice president were involved in corruption and had ties to a terrorist group.

Paraguay’s Attorney General Emiliano Rolón Fernández said a team would look into the U.S. allegations that former President Horacio Cartes and Vice President Hugo Velázquez engaged “in systemic corruption that has undermined democratic institutions in Paraguay.”

Cartes and Velázquez have previously denied the allegations.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, added three people to a list of Paraguayan officials it suspects of “significant corruption” and who would be barred from entry into the U.S. along with their family members. That list, started in 2019, now numbers nine officials.

The U.S. in January issued explosive allegations that Cartes and Velázquez had ties to the Mideastern militant group Hezbollah, which Washington has designated a terrorist organization.

The U.S. has long said the porous tri-border region that connects Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is a hub for terrorism financing through money laundering of illicit activity. The U.S. has identified what it has described as members of Hezbollah who use front companies in the region to finance terror activities in the Middle East.

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

The latest officials added to the corruption list were the former director of the Paraguayan Civil Aviation Authority, Edgar Melgarejo as well as Jorge Bogarín, a member of a panel that disciplines judges and proseuctors, and Vicente Ferreira, a court clerk.

The designations came after the State Department “received credible information” that Melgarejo “misappropriated public funds for personal gain during his tenure” and that Bogarín and Ferreira “interfered in judicial proceedings for their own personal benefit,” U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Marc Ostfield said Thursday.

“Acts of corruption like these undermine the institutions, processes, and people’s faith in the ability of the Paraguayan government to serve its people,” Ostfield said.

Melgarejo told local media he was “surprised” by the designation and said he was unaware of the reasons behind his inclusion in the U.S. corruption list.

The investigation by Paraguay’s chief prosecutor also will look into claims of corruption involving Juan Carlos Duarte, legal adviser for the entity that runs the bi-national Yacyretá Dam that is jointly owned by Paraguay and Argentina.