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Brazilian police seek arrest of Paraguay ex-President Cartes

Brazilian police are seeking the arrest of Paraguay's ex-President Horacio Cartes as part of an investigation into money laundering.

On Tuesday, Brazilian authorities alleged Cartes provided $500,000 to a criminal organization at the request of Dario Messer, a Brazilian associate who was then a fugitive facing corruption charges, prosecutors told reporters.

Messer informed Cartes that he needed the funds to pay for legal fees and “it was shown that money was in fact made available,” prosecutor José Augusto Vagos said.

Prosecutor Marisa Ferrari speaks during a press conference about the investigation into kickbacks and money laundering that they say involve Paraguay's former President Horacio Cartes, at the Federal Police headquarters, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. On Tuesday, Brazilian authorities alleged Cartes provided $500,000 to a criminal organization at the request of Dario Messer, a Brazilian associate who was then a fugitive facing corruption charges, prosecutors told reporters. (AP PhotoSilvia Izquierdo)

Brazilian authorities say they have asked Interpol to put out a red notice for the arrest of Cartes. Earlier this year, they arrested Messer, the alleged leader of a group of Brazilian illicit money changers who delivered bribes as part of the “Car Wash” kickback scheme, the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history.

The sprawling Car Wash investigation since 2014 has roiled not only Brazil’s business and political elite, but also spread to neighboring countries. The probe revealed the scope of corruption and cozy relationships between the public and private sectors.

Cartes, 63, amassed a fortune with two dozen companies acting in all sorts of industries, including tobacco, banking, soccer and soft drinks. He parlayed that influence into a presidential run, and served a five-year term through 2018. Cartes often denied accusations that his wealth was fed by money laundering, cigarette smuggling and drug trafficking.

Authorities hold a press conference regarding the investigation into kickbacks and money laundering that they say involve Paraguay's ex-President Horacio Cartes, at Federal Police headquarters, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. Brazilian police are seeking the arrest of the former president as part of the investigation. (AP PhotoSilvia Izquierdo)

Cartes has called Messer his “soul brother,” while Messer referred to Cartes as “Boss,” prosecutors said. They are still evaluating whether Cartes’ alleged participation in the criminal organization was temporary when providing the funds to Messer, or a permanent fixture of the group.

Brazilian authorities sought Cartes’ preventative imprisonment on the basis that he could continue to finance the criminal organization, particularly members who haven’t yet been identified, said prosecutor Marisa Ferrari.

“There is a strong suspicion that the criminal conduct could be repeated,” Ferrari said. “While Horacio Cartes is no longer president, he still maintains strong economic power and no less political power in Paraguay. He has diverse companies, is one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, and is a senator.”

Federal police officers leave a residential building carrying seized documents from suspects under investigation for kickbacks and money laundering, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. Brazilian police are seeking the arrest of Paraguay's ex-President Horacio Cartes as part of the investigation. (AP PhotoSilvia Izquierdo)

Cartes, who was among 20 suspects sought by police, is believed to be outside Brazil. All of the suspects located in Brazil were arrested, while those abroad remain at large, authorities said.

Federal police officers stand in a residential building garage in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. Brazilian police are seeking the arrest of several people, including Paraguay's ex-President Horacio Cartes , as part of a massive investigation into kickbacks and money laundering. (AP PhotoSilvia Izquierdo)