The United States has blacklisted former Paraguay President Horacio Cartes for alleged involvement in “significant” corruption and links to “terrorist” groups.
The US Department of State designated Cartes and his three adult children for corruption on Friday, accusing him of hindering an international criminal investigation. The designation triggers a US visa ban against Cartes, who served as the landlocked South American country’s president from 2013 to 2018.
“Former President Cartes obstructed a major international investigation into transnational crime in order to protect himself and his criminal associate from potential prosecution and political damage,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“These actions undermined the stability of Paraguay’s democratic institutions by contributing to public perception of corruption and impunity within the office of the Paraguayan President.”
Blinken also accused Cartes of “involvement with foreign terrorist organizations and other US-designated entities” without naming them.
Brazil issued an arrest warrant against Cartes in 2019 over money laundering accusations. The former president denied the charge and said he would make himself available for an investigation in Paraguay.
Cartes had recently announced his candidacy to lead the governing Colorado Party, with the primaries set for December. Paraguay will hold a presidential election next year, but the country’s constitution limits presidents to one term in office.
The former president, a business tycoon, is considered to be one of the richest men in Paraguay.
A 2010 US embassy cable, leaked by Wikileaks in 2011, said US agencies were investigating Cartes for an alleged “money laundering enterprise”. Cartes, who was never charged with a crime, has denied any wrongdoing.
“The accusations made during this campaign have no truth to them, and personally I am very serene,” Cartes said while running for president in 2013.
The Trump administration praised Cartes’s government in 2018 for moving the country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a move reversed by his successor President Mario Abdo Benitez months later.
Cartes is the latest Latin American leader to face a US crackdown for alleged corruption.
Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez is facing corruption and drug trafficking charges in US court after being extradited earlier this year. He has pleaded not guilty.
On Friday, Blinken said US Department of State designations against Cartes and his children “reaffirm the commitment of the United States to combat corruption, which harms the public interest, hampers countries’ economic prosperity, and curtails the ability of governments to respond effectively to the needs of their people”.