Paraguayan Vice President Hugo Velázquez Friday announced in a radio interview that he would be resigning his job and stepping down from the presidential race after being added by the United States to the list of people significantly corrupt, where he joined former President Horacio Cartés.
The US measure also includes Velázquez's wife and children and entails a ban for life from entering the US and from using his money or assets there.
”It fell like a bucket of cold water. I don't know what he (U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay Marc Ostfield) was talking about. As a pre-candidate for President of the Republic, having as a speech the fight against organized crime, this makes me feel bad and I have to be consistent, Velázquez said.
Ambassador Ostfield argued in a press conference that the second in command obstructed an investigation that threatened him and his financial interests. He also mention a bribe that would amount to US$ 1 million.
It was very volatile the report of an alleged bribe, I do not know if there is a criminal case. I have no idea of the accusation. I must take care of the principles for which I have fought, continued Velázquez. He insisted that there is a loophole in the case involving him.
Velázquez admitted President Mario Abdo Benítez had tipped him off the US announcement three minutes in advance. He added that he was calm and that he wanted not to affect Abdo or the Colorado Party - hence, his resignations.
I speak with the tranquility that my conduct gives me, because I did not do what they are accusing me of (attempted bribery). I am speaking with a clean conscience,” he said.
Mrs. Velázquez (Lourdes Samaniego), is a deputy attorney general on leave, and was also reached by the US sanction. Velázquez said he had not yet discussed the matter with his wife but that he wished she would resign from her post.
Today the State Department designated Paraguayan Vice President Hugo Velazquez and associate Juan Carlos Duarte as ineligible to enter the United States for involvement in significant acts of corruption. We are committed to supporting democracy and promoting accountability for corrupt officials, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reported via Twitter.
Three weeks ago, Ostfield announced that former President Cartés (2013-2018) had been added to the List of significantly corrupt politicians and businessmen for obstruction in a transnational investigation.
Cartes used the Presidency of Paraguay to obstruct an investigation involving his partner, Ostfield said about financial trader Dario Messer, who was under investigation for corruption cases in Brazil, was a fugitive from justice and was later arrested in Paraguay. It is suspected that they were partners and that the former president helped him to hide. According to the diplomat, this association allowed Cartés to participate in corrupt, terrorist and other activities considered illicit by the United States.
Under Article 234 of Paraguay's Constitution, if the definitive vacancy of the Vice Presidency occurs during the last two years, Congress shall by an absolute majority of its members, designate the person to hold the office for the remainder of the term. Anybody meeting the legal requirements for the office might be appointed, not necessarily a member of Parliament.
The requirements are: Paraguayan natural citizenship, a minimum age of 35 and to be in full exercise of their civil or political rights. Congress must first accept Velázquez's resignation. For the election of the new vice-president, members of Congress shall act as a one-house body. If the person chosen for the vice presidency is a pre-candidate for any elective office, he/she must renounce his/her candidacy.