Journal De Bruxelles - Revenge in Guatemala? Anti-corruption prosecutors arrested

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Revenge in Guatemala? Anti-corruption prosecutors arrested
Revenge in Guatemala? Anti-corruption prosecutors arrested

Revenge in Guatemala? Anti-corruption prosecutors arrested

The recent arrest of six anti-corruption prosecutors in Guatemala has sparked fears that political elites are seeking revenge after being investigated for graft.

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The charges against the prosecutors, which range from obstruction of justice to abuse of authority, were brought by Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who has been included on a US list of "corrupt actors."

AFP looks into why Guatemala's public prosecutor's office is cracking down.

1. How did it all begin?

The problems started when Guatemalan "business elites" were accused in 2016 of graft over construction contracts and illegal electoral financing, Colombian Ivan Velasquez, who was chief of the now defunct UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), told AFP.

Of those arrested, one was a representative of CICIG while the other five were members of the country's Special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity (FECI).

The CICIG was created in 2007 to combat remnants of Guatemala's "clandestine security machinery" that threatened human rights defenders and justice officials after the country's 1960-96 civil war.

The commission even had the power to prosecute.

Alongside the FECI, it uncovered customs fraud in 2015 that provoked the resignation of then-president Otto Perez, who was identified as the ringleader.

"The business elites realized that the investigations would not be limited... to Otto Perez," said Velasquez.

Fearful of what was to come, they started smear campaigns in Guatemala, the United States and Europe in a bid to shut down the mission, he added.

When then-president Jimmy Morales (2016-20), who originally supported the CICIG, found himself investigated for campaign corruption, he accused the mission of overstepping its duties and banished it from the Central American country.

2. Why are prosecutors being arrested?

Despite the expulsion of the CICIG, the FECI continued to investigate corruption but came under fire from politicians charged with graft, the body's former chief Juan Francisco Sandoval told AFP.

Sandoval now lives in exile in the United States having fled out of fear for his life.

With Porras now in charge of the public prosecutor's office, FECI received no support.

"Any public servant who dares to oppose the system... knows that they will not be able to survive because they will suffer the same consequences" as the detained or exiled prosecutors, said Sandoval.

It is "a revenge plan by Guatemala's criminal alliance because our work... showed how corruption works," said former attorney general Thelma Aldana, who has also lived in exile in the United States since 2019.

Aldana wanted to run for president in 2019 but left the country after an arrest warrant was issued against her for allegedly creating fake positions during her 2014-18 tenure as top prosecutor.

"They are developing a scorched earth policy (to) erase the pubic memory of what was a great opportunity to reconstruct" democracy, said Velasquez.

3. What is the attorney general's role in the arrests?

Porras is "in charge of dismantling" the FECI and "managing this criminalization and this attack" said Aldana.

Former FECI chief Sandoval says Porras is one of "the most important pieces" in the alleged revenge mission.

Porras sacked Sandoval in July apparently due to "a lack of confidence in the relationship."

But that came about after Sandoval accused President Alejandro Giammattei of involvement in corruption.

Juan Luis Pantaleon, spokesman for the Public Ministry, denied the arrests were part of a revenge mission, saying "one cannot consider carrying out the law to be criminalization."

4. What is President Giammattei's role?

Sandoval said Giammattei is trying "to make sure the cases he could be involved in are not investigated."

He said he was fired after announcing that he had information on a possible bribe paid by Russian businessmen to Giammattei for the right to operate a port on the Caribbean coast.

"I have evidence that the attorney general is executing this (impunity) plan but one of the people behind it must be the president," said Sandoval.

The government has rejected the remarks.

E.Goossens--JdB