US sanctions Paraguay VP, former president for corruption

LIMA, Peru (AP) — The United States has imposed sanctions on former Paraguay president Horacio Cartes Jara and current vice president Hugo Velázquez Moreno, unveiling explosive allegations Thursday that they participated in widespread corruption schemes and are associated with members of the a terrorist organization.

The former president and current vice president have been involved in “systemic corruption that has undermined democratic institutions in Paraguay” and are associated with members of Hezbollah, which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization, the Treasury Department said. .

As a result, “these two people can’t use the United States financial system now,” Marc Ostfield, the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, said at a news conference.

Cartes and Velázquez did not immediately comment on the allegations. Both were on a US corruption list last year, but now the charges against them have expanded. The Treasury also issued sanctions against four companies owned or controlled by Cartes.

Cartes, “one of the wealthiest individuals in Paraguay,” who served as president from 2013 to 2018, “has engaged in a collective pattern of corruption, including widespread bribery of government officials and lawmakers,” the State Department said Thursday.

The sanctions outlined on Thursday quickly rocked Paraguay’s political world, with opposition lawmakers demanding the start of investigations into Cartes, Velázquez and any lawmakers who may have received bribes.

In his quest to become president, Cartes repeatedly handed out money to officials, a pattern that continued through his presidency and after he stepped down, according to US officials.

First, after Cartes joined the Colorado Party in 2009, he bribed officials into convincing them to drop the party’s previous requirement that one must be affiliated for 10 years before running for the party’s presidential nominee. He then paid some members of the party as much as $10,000 to support his candidacy, the Treasury said.

While he was president, Cartes paid between $5,000 and $50,000 monthly to a group of “loyal legislators” to ensure he maintained control of Congress. Those payments continued after he left office to ensure lawmakers voted in his best interests, Treasury said.

Overall, the former president, who still leads the Colorado party, “has used his illegally acquired wealth and influence to extend his political and economic power over Paraguayan institutions,” according to the State Department.

The allegations against Velázquez were less detailed, with the Treasury Department saying only that the vice president “has also engaged in corrupt practices to disrupt legal processes and protect himself and criminal associates from criminal investigations,” including by officials to bribe and threaten to ensure that his illegal activity was not exposed.

The United States also alleges that “representatives of both Cartes and Velázquez collected bribes” at Hezbollah private events in Paraguay.

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