July 17, 2017 / 7:22 PM / in a year

America Movil audits Guatemalan unit amid corruption probe

MEXICO CITY, July 17 (Reuters) - Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s telecoms company America Movil said on Monday it was auditing its Guatemalan unit, which has become embroiled in a probe into suspected money laundering and illicit election financing by a former government minister.

Guatemalan police on Friday arrested 17 people on suspicion of involvement in a corruption racket allegedly directed by the country’s former communications minister Alejandro Sinibaldi, who has been on the run since June 2016.

During the probe by a U.N.-backed anti-corruption body in Guatemala known as the CICIG, investigators found evidence of payments from Telecomunicaciones de Guatemala S.A. (Telgua), a subsidiary of America Movil, in Sinibaldi’s account.

“Guatemalan law permits these contributions,” a spokesman for America Movil said over the phone. “What we are trying to find out is why these contributions were made without observing the norms and requirements that Guatemalan law establishes.”

Interviews with a former Telgua executive revealed that the payments were intended to secure the company favorable treatment in a dispute with a Tigo, a local rival, CICIG said.

The former Telgua executive took responsibility for the payments, and the company did not benefit from them, the America Movil spokesman said. “The commercial dispute between Telgua and Tigo was resolved through a private agreement ... without any intervention from the Guatemalan government.”

A spokeswoman for Tigo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sinibaldi served under former President Otto Perez, who fell from power in 2015 following a CICIG-led investigation into his alleged involvement in a lucrative corruption racket.

Sinibaldi created a series of shell companies to launder money he collected in bribes to authorized state building companies, and some of that money also was intended to finance Perez Molina’s right-wing Patriot Party, the CICIG said. (Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Richard Chang)

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