US accuses top Paraguay politicians of corruption, spurring probe

Paraguay’s ex-president and current vice president are under investigation for alleged corruption – charges they deny.

A man speaks into a multiple microphones pointed at his face
Former Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes is under investigation following US allegations of corruption [File: Cesar Olmedo/Reuters]

Paraguay’s attorney general has launched a criminal investigation into the United States government’s allegations that the country’s former president and the current vice president were involved in corruption and had ties to a violent group.

Attorney General Emiliano Rolón Fernández said on Thursday that a team would look into the 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 US, meanwhile, added three people to a list of Paraguayan officials it suspects of “significant corruption” and who would be barred from entry into the US, along with their family members. That list, started in 2019, now numbers nine officials.

In January, the US issued explosive allegations that Cartes and Velázquez had ties to the group Hezbollah, which Washington has designated a “terrorist” organisation.

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

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

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

The designations came after the US State Department “received credible information” that Melgarejo “misappropriated public funds for personal gain during his tenure”, according to US Ambassador to Paraguay Marc Ostfield.

He also said there was evidence Bogarín and Ferreira “interfered in judicial proceedings for their own personal benefit”.

“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 on Thursday.

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

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

Source: The Associated Press