July 15, 2017 / 12:57 AM / a month ago

Guatemala arrests 17 in graft probe, case mentions Slim unit

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemalan police on Friday arrested 17 people on suspicion of involvement in a web of money laundering and illegal election financing, in an investigation that also has embroiled a local unit of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim's America Movil.

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, (CICIG) a U.N.-backed anti-corruption body, said the scheme was run by former communications minister Alejandro Sinibaldi, who has been a fugitive from justice since June 2016.

Sinibaldi served under former president Otto Perez, who fell from power in 2015 following a CICIG-led investigation into his alleged involvement in a lucrative corruption racket.

Ivan Velasquez, head of the CICIG, told a news conference Sinibaldi created a series of shell companies to launder money he collected in bribes to authorized state building companies.

Some of that money also was intended to finance Perez Molina's right-wing Patriot Party, Velasquez said.

During the probe, investigators found evidence of payments from Telecomunicaciones de Guatemala S.A. (Telgua), a subsidiary of America Movil, in Sinibaldi's account, Velasquez said.

Interviews with a former Telgua executive revealed that the payments were intended to secure the company favourable treatment in a dispute with a rival, Velasquez said.

A spokesman for America Movil had no immediate comment.

Former president Perez, who denies wrongdoing, is currently in prison and on trial over various corruption charges.

Writing by Julia Love; Editing by Bill Trott

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