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Investigation into Paraguay Ex-President Reflects Regional Trend

ELITES AND CRIME / 21 OCT 2015 BY MICHAEL LOHMULLER EN

Officials in Paraguay have opened a criminal investigation into former President Federico Franco, raising the possibility that Paraguay could follow the path recently taken by other Latin American countries and attempt to take down a previously untouchable prominent figure.

On October 20, Paraguay's Attorney General announced Federico Franco, who was interim president between 2012 and 2013, is being investigated for the crimes of money laundering, criminal association, and illicit enrichment.

Franco failed to explain the origins of assets valued at over $1 million, said prosecutors. Together with Senator Ramon Gomez Verlangieri, who is also under investigation, Franco also stands accused of using a checking account to conduct suspect financial transactions.

The Attorney General said the investigation is still in its preliminary stages and that investigators are soliciting information on Franco and Verlangieri's assets from a number of public and private entities.

In conjunction with these developments, the defamation trial against lawyer Paraguayo Cubas, who had previously accused Franco and his wife Emilia Alfaro -- a current senator -- of stealing government money, began this Monday. Cubas announced he is prepared to defend his remarks in court, reported Hoy.

"We're ready to go to the end," Cubas said, "and I hope Federico Franco will soon be the first ex-president to be a prisoner, and that Emilia Alfaro is the first ex-first lady to be imprisoned."

A member of the Liberal Party, Franco was vice president before becoming president in June 2012 after then President Fernando Lugo was ousted from office.

InSight Crime Analysis

Corruption has long dogged Paraguayan state institutions, and the country's political elites have routinely been implicated in criminal activities.

Upon taking office in 2013, Franco's presidential successor, Horacio Cartes, accused state institutions of corruption and involvement in contraband networks. Nonetheless, Cartes himself has been linked to smuggling, drug trafficking, and money laundering.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay

Previously, Paraguayan powerbrokers have enjoyed impunity for their shady dealings. Yet the investigation into Franco may signal a new tenacity among Paraguayan prosecutors, opening the door for greater scrutiny of those holding privileged positions in society.

Although successfully prosecuting such figures remains an enormous challenge with numerous obstacles to overcome, Paraguay's Attorney General can at least draw inspiration from similar proceedings around the region. Investigations into corrupt elites have already brought down a government in Guatemala, while further investigations are ongoing into sitting and former presidents in a long list of Latin American countries including Brazil, Peru, Panama and Colombia.

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