Guatemalan presidential candidate held over 'drug plot'
A Guatemalan presidential candidate has been arrested in the US city of Miami on suspicion of conspiring to import cocaine to the United States.
US investigators say centre-right candidate Mario Estrada, 58, was seeking more than $10m (£7.7m) from the Sinaloa cartel in exchange for helping the powerful Mexican criminal group to smuggle cocaine into the US.
They say he was going to use the money to fund his presidential campaign.
Elections will be held on 16 June.
Mr Estrada, who has run for president unsuccessfully three times before, is lagging behind in opinion polls with less than 3% of those polled saying they would vote for him.
In a radio interview with Emisoras Unidas (in Spanish) earlier this month, he said that one of his priorities if he were to be elected would be to reform the police force so that "the Guatemalan regain confidence in the police".
Skip Twitter post by @EmisorasUnidas
#EUElecciones2019 Mario Estrada habla sobre impulsar en su gobierno la reforma policial. pic.twitter.com/QJHeFbr7JX
— Emisoras Unidas (@EmisorasUnidas) April 9, 2019
End of Twitter post by @EmisorasUnidas
Less than 10 days later, Mr Estrada was arrested in Miami. A statement by the US Attorney's Office outlines the charges against him and another Guatemalan national he was arrested with, Juan Pablo González.
It alleges that "Estrada and Gonzalez conspired to solicit Sinaloa Cartel money to finance a corrupt scheme to elect Estrada president of Guatemala. In return, the two allegedly promised to assist the cartel in using Guatemalan ports and airports to export tons of cocaine into the US".
The two men have so far not commented on the charges made against them.
You may also be interested in:
- Five facts about Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán
- Guatemala ex-VP Baldetti wanted by US over cocaine charges
- Guatemala security: 'Those who can afford it buy protection'
Guatemala is a transit country for cocaine smuggled by international criminal gangs such as the Sinaloa cartel from South America to the US.
The statement also says that the two men attempted to arrange the assassinations of political rivals.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had been investigating Mr Estrada since December.
According to the statement, Mr Estrada and Mr González revealed their plans to men they took to be Sinaloa cartel members, but who were acting as confidential sources for the DEA.
During their meetings in Guatemala, Mr Estrada and Mr González allegedly told the DEA sources "to hire hitmen to assassinate political rivals to ensure that Estrada was elected president of Guatemala".
Mr Estrada also allegedly offered to appoint members of the Sinaloa cartel to high-ranking government positions in Guatemala such as the secretaries of the interior and defense, if he was elected.
Voters in Guatemala have said that one of their main concerns ahead of the election is corruption.