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The two men face charges of embezzlement and fraud relating to government contracts worth millions. The trial comes at a bad time for Oxfam, which has been battling widespread fallout from allegations of sexual abuse.
Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight (right), the most recent chairman of the international charity Oxfam, and Alvaro Colom (left), Guatemala‘s president from 2008-2012, will stand trial for fraud and embezzlement, a judge in the Central American nation ruled Thursday.
The charges revolve around a $35 million (28.50 million euros) contract for public buses made in 2009, when Fuentes was Colom’s finance minister. Prosecutors argue that the contract value was inflated and that the funds were then improperly spent, defrauding the government out of millions.
The pending trial casts yet another negative spotlight on the British-based Oxfam, which has recently suffered from fallout due to allegations of sexual abuse by its workers in Haiti.
House arrest and preventive prison
Fuentes and Colom were arrested on February 13, along with 11 other former cabinet ministers. All 13 suspects face fraud charges, but only Fuentes and Colom have been additionally accused of embezzlement due their “direct knowledge” of the matter, judge Jose Eduardo Cojulum said.
The judge set bail for Fuentes at just over $68,000 (500,000 quetzales), also ordering that he remain under house arrest and in the country. Cojulum also ordered ex-President Colom to be placed in preventative detention due to “risk of flight” and the possibility of “obstruction of justice.”
Fuentes remained silent upon leaving the court hearing but emotionally embraced relatives, Spanish news agency EFE reported. The former chairman of Oxfam resigned from his position in the charity the day he was arrested, handing his role over to the deputy chair, Dr. Henrietta Campbell.
“Oxfam supports Dr. Fuentes Knight and his decision to devote his time now to vigorously contest these charges,” the organization had said in a statement released the day he stepped down.
Colom, meanwhile, reiterated his commitment to fighting corruption but said he disagreed with his arrest and how the case against him had been carried out.
“All of this is really strange. I don’t know what the background to this event is,” the ex-president said upon leaving the hearing Thursday. “If they are going to take all government agreements as a base, it will all turn into chaos.”