Guatemala arrests ex-president Colom on graft charges

Former Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom (center) is arrested on corruption charges in Guatemala City on February 13, 2018

Guatemalan authorities on Tuesday arrested a former president, Alvaro Colom, and nine ministers from his 2008-2012 government on corruption charges, a top prosecutor told AFP.

Colom, 66, was taken into custody at his home in an upmarket district of the capital, the head of the special anti-graft prosecution unit, Juan Francisco Sandoval, said.

The allegations against him and his former ministers related to graft in the public transport system.

The ex-president told reporters as he was brought to the main court building in Guatemala City that he was confident of being exonerated.

"I am certain this will turn out without foundation ... For us, everything is legal," Colom said.

"I am confident that everything we did was correct," he said.

Colom was in power for four years from 2008. He was succeeded in 2012 by Oscar Perez who is in jail pending trial over a separate corruption scandal.

- Suspected embezzlement -

Guatemala's current president, Jimmy Morales, was elected in 2015 on his promise to clean up rampant graft in the Central American country. But he too has come under scrutiny for suspected wrongdoing.

Last month, the country's chief prosecutor, Thelma Aldana, said she did not see Morales "as an ally in the fight against corruption."

Morales triggered a public and political backlash last year when he tried to boot out the Colombian head of a UN-backed anti-corruption body that has been instrumental in bringing scrutiny to bear on graft cases in the country.

Colom and the other suspects are accused of fraud and embezzlement in the 2009 purchase of hundreds of buses to ply routes in the capital, Sandoval said.

Four companies were given 25-year government contracts to run the services. The buses were allegedly bought at inflated prices.

Also in 2009, Colom's party, the center-left National Unity of Hope party, tried to pass a law exempting the transaction from taxes.

Colom and the nine ministers -- from a 13-member cabinet -- signed the deal setting up the transport system, baptized TransUrbano.

The former ministers include those who held the portfolios for finance, governance, education, defense, labor, health, and environment.