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Guatemala arrests ex-president Colom on graft charges

GUATEMALA CITY, Feb 13, 2018 (BSS/AFP) - Guatemalan authorities on Tuesday arrested a former president, Alvaro Colom, and nine ministers of his government on corruption charges, a top prosecutor told AFP.

Colom, 66, was taken into custody at his home in an upmarket district of the capital, the head of the special anti-graft prosecution unit, Juan Francisco Sandoval, said.

The allegations against him and his former ministers related to graft in the public transport system.

Colom was in power from 2008 to 2012. He was succeeded by Oscar Perez who is in jail pending trial over a separate corruption scandal.

Guatemala's current president, Jimmy Morales, was elected in 2015 vowing to clean up rampant graft in the Central American country. But he too has come under scrutiny for suspected wrongdoing.

Last month, the country's chief prosecutor, Thelma Aldana, said she did see Morales "as an ally in the fight against corruption."

Morales triggered a public and political backlash last year when he tried to boot out the Colombian head of a UN-backed anti-corruption body that has been instrumental in bringing scrutiny to bear on graft cases in the country.

- Suspect transport deal -

Colom and the other suspects are accused of fraud and embezzlement in the 2009 purchase of hundreds of buses to ply routes in the capital, Sandoval said. Four companies were given 25-year government contracts to run the services.

Also that year, Colom's party, the center-left National Unity of Hope party, tried to pass a law exempting the transaction from taxes.

Colom and the nine ministers -- from a 13-member cabinet -- signed the deal setting up the transport system, baptized TransUrbano.

The former ministers include those who held the portfolios for finance, governance, education, defense, labor, health, and environment.