© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Horacio Cartes, former president of Paraguay and pre-candidate for the presidency of the National Republican Association (ANR), talks with the media after votin in his party’s primary election at a poll station in Asuncion, Paraguay, December
By Kylie Madry and Brendan O’Boyle
(Reuters) -The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Thursday sanctioned Paraguay’s former President Horacio Cartes and current Vice President Hugo Velazquez, citing “rampant corruption that undermines democratic institutions.”
The Treasury also designated four entities owned or controlled by Cartes.
Cartes had previously denied the accusations in July, when accusations from the United States first emerged. Velazquez was not immediately available for comment and a spokesperson for their political party, the ruling Colorado Party, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Treasury accused Cartes of participating in corrupt activities before, during and after his term as president, alleging the basis of his career depended on “corrupt means for success.”
Cartes is the head of the Colorado Party and an important backer of its candidate in this year’s presidential election.
The Treasury said Cartes joined the party in 2009, providing financial aid and incentives to push the group to eliminate a requirement allowing him to run as the party’s presidential candidate.
He also paid party members up to $10,000 each to support his candidacy before 2013 elections, the Treasury said.
As president, Cartes made cash payments to officials in exchange for their backing, the Treasury alleged. He reportedly made monthly payments to legislators of $5,000 to $50,000 per member.
In 2017, Cartes pledged $1 million to buy legislators’ votes in an unsuccessful bid to pass a constitutional reform that would have allowed him to run for a second term, the Treasury said.
After leaving office, Cartes continued to bribe legislators, according to the Treasury.
The U.S. agency also alleged that Vice President Velazquez has interfered with legal processes to “protect himself and criminal associates” from investigation.
The Treasury said both Cartes and Velazquez have ties to members of U.S.-designated terrorist group Hezbollah, which has “regularly” held events in Paraguay to exchange favors and bribes.
The sanctions mean all property and interests in property of Cartes and Velazquez in the United States are blocked, the Treasury said.