Guatemalan presidential candidate arrested on drug charges

NEW YORK — A Guatemalan presidential candidate was arrested Wednesday in Miami on drug and weapons charges, accused of plotting to assassinate political rivals and to let drug dealers use Guatemala's ports and airports.

The candidate, Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana, 58, and an alleged accomplice, Juan Pablo Gonzalez Mayorga, 50, were scheduled to appear Thursday before a federal magistrate in Miami on charges brought in New York, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a release.

"Estrada and Gonzalez conspired to solicit Sinaloa Cartel money to finance a corrupt scheme to elect Estrada president of Guatemala," Berman said. "In return, the two allegedly promised to assist the cartel in using Guatemalan ports and airports to export tons of cocaine into the U.S."

The prosecutor credited the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration with building the case against the men with the aid of confidential sources.

"As further alleged, Estrada and Gonzalez attempted to arrange the assassinations of political rivals," he said. "Thanks to the DEA, Estrada stands no chance of election in Guatemala, but he and Gonzalez face justice in the United States."

Both men were charged with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and a related weapons offense.

It was unclear who will represent them when they appear before a federal court in Miami.

Adolphus P. Wright, a DEA official, said the investigation was aided by a strong partnership with Guatemalan law enforcement authorities.

"Together with our international law enforcement partners, we will continue our efforts to keep illegal drug trafficking from corrupting the just political systems of our Central and South American neighbors, as we also endeavor to prevent such activity from harming the United States," he said.

According to a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday, the DEA has been investigating several individuals since December after learning there were efforts to secure financing from international drug cartels to support Estrada's presidential campaign.

The evidence against the men includes video and audio communications, according to the complaint.

Authorities said Estrada and Gonzalez in the assassination plot identified specific targets by name and agreed to provide hit men with firearms, including AK-47s, to carry out murders.

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