Oxfam chairman, Guatemala ex-president put on trial for corruption

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Former Guatemalan finance minister and the chairman of under-fire British-based charity group Oxfam International, Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight, arrives at a court hearing in Guatemala City on February 23, 2018. Colom and nine ministers of his former government are in prison and on trial for corruption charges related to graft in the public transport system. / AFP PHOTO / JOHAN ORDONEZ

Oxfam’s chairman and Guatemala’s former president are to face trial on corruption charges over alleged graft in a public bus contract, a judge in this Central American country ruled Thursday.

Juan Alberto Fuentes, the Guatemalan chairman of the British-based charity Oxfam International, and Alvaro Colom, who was Guatemala’s head of state between 2008 and 2012, were arrested February 13. Most of Colom’s cabinet were also detained.

Although unrelated to the allegations rocking Oxfam of sexual exploitation and misconduct by its staff in Haiti and other countries, the case against Fuentes darkens the cloud over the organization, which has been cut off from British state funding.

Oxfam previously noted the alleged corruption matter against Fuentes pre-dated his appointment as chairman, harking back to when he served as Colom’s finance minister.

The trial will examine a $35 million public contract made in 2009 for the purchase of hundreds of buses to ply routes in San Salvador. Prosecutors allege the contract amount was inflated, with much of it going to improper or unaccounted-for spending.

Colom, Fuentes and the other 11 suspects were involved in the deal.

The judge on Thursday, Jose Eduardo Cojulun, said there was sufficient evidence for a trial.

All the suspects should face fraud charges, he said, while Colom and Fuentes should also face embezzlement charges because of their “direct knowledge” in the matter.