Guatemala ex-leader Portillo pleads guilty in US court

Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo appears in court in New York in this 18 March, 2014 court sketch Portillo made a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to launder money

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Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004) has told a court in New York he accepted $2.5m (£1.5m) in bribes from Taiwan.

Portillo pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money and agreed not to appeal against any prison sentence between four and six years.

He said he had taken the money in exchange for a promise that his country would continue to recognise Taiwan diplomatically while he was in office.

Portillo will be sentenced in June.

His plea deal came as another Central American ex-leader is also facing an inquiry into his dealings with Taiwan.

El Salvador's former president, Francisco Flores, is under investigation by the Salvadorean congress for allegedly misusing millions of dollars in funds from Taiwan, which he denies.

Francisco Flores (right) answers questions to the congress in San Salvador on 7 January, 2014, El Salvador's Congress has recommend that Mr Flores be investigated by the Attorney General

Guatemala and El Salvador are among the few countries in the world with diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province.

Apology

Portillo said he "knew at the time that what I was doing was wrong". He had campaigned on a promise to fight corruption and impunity in Guatemala.

"I apologise for my crimes, take responsibility for them, and accept the consequences of my actions," he told the federal court in New York.

He said the money was moved through US banks and admitted that he knew "these transactions were designed, in part, to conceal and disguise the source and ownership of the money".

The US court had jurisdiction over the case because the bribes came from an account at a bank in New York City.

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