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Former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo, accused of corruption, speaks to the media before boarding a plane for his extradition to the United States for money laundering, at the Air Force Base in Guatemala City, May 24, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer


By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo is scheduled to be released from a U.S. prison in February, more than five years after his arrest on money laundering charges.

Portillo's Facebook page announced that he would be freed on February 25, 2015. Inmate records from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons confirmed the date.

The Facebook post also said Portillo’s attorneys would seek to have him transferred from a New York prison to Florida and would seek permission for him to complete his sentence in Guatemala starting in September 2014.

Portillo, 62, was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison in May after admitting he took $2.5 million (1.46 million pounds) in bribes from Taiwan and laundered funds through U.S. banks.

After his sentencing, his attorney, David Rosenfield, indicated he would seek credit for the more than four years Portillo had been incarcerated since 2010.

Neither Rosenfield, nor the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, which prosecuted the case, immediately responded to a request for comment.

Portillo served as president of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004 and was extradited to the United States in May 2013 after a yearslong fight. A Guatemalan court previously cleared him of local embezzlement charges.

U.S. prosecutors initially accused Portillo of laundering tens of millions of dollars he embezzled from the Guatemalan government, including $2.5 million provided by Taiwan’s embassy in Guatemala.

Portillo pleaded guilty in March to one charge of conspiring to launder money but said the money from Taiwan was actually a bribe offered in exchange for Guatemala’s continued diplomatic recognition.

China claims the Taiwanese government is illegitimate; the two have been governed separately since 1949. Only 22 countries maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, including Vatican City, Paraguay, Panama, Haiti, Nicaragua and the tiny island countries of Nauru and Palau.

As part of Portillo’s sentence, U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson also ordered him to forfeit $2.5 million.

At his sentencing, Portillo touted his record as president, emphasising tax and education reforms he instituted in Guatemala.

“All men make mistakes as well as achievements in life,” he said in court.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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