A Corruption Scandal Is Making Waves in ‘Squeaky-Clean’ Uruguay

A Corruption Scandal Is Making Waves in ‘Squeaky-Clean’ Uruguay
Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou speaks during a press conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, March 16, 2021 (AP photo by Matilde Campodonico).

The story was damaging enough to begin with. Last September, Alejandro Astesiano—chief bodyguard to Uruguay’s center-right president, Luis Lacalle Pou—was arrested in the presidential residence, soon after returning with his boss from a family holiday abroad.

According to prosecutors, Astesiano had used his privileged position to sell fake birth certificates to dozens, and perhaps even hundreds, of foreign citizens seeking to claim Uruguayan passports via ancestry—especially Russians seeking to escape their country in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. While Astesiano seems to have inherited the racket, which reportedly goes as far back as 2013, the vast majority of fake documents have been issued while Lacalle Pou was president.

Lacalle Pou seemed shocked and blindsided. After all, he insisted, Astesiano—a close friend of two decades—had no previous criminal record. But media reports subsequently revealed that the 47-year-old former chauffeur and police officer has had more than 20 brushes with the law, including for alleged acts of fraud, theft and property damage.

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