HomeNewsAnalysisCorruption in Guatemala: A Story of Rats, Wiretaps, and Arrogance

Corruption in Guatemala: A Story of Rats, Wiretaps, and Arrogance


How is it possible that a corruption scandal could force out a president in a matter of months? This is what any foreign observer would ask who is following what is happening in Guatemala.

It's not necessary to review the literature on comparative politics to realize that in very few cases have corruption scandals ended a presidency in such a short time frame. In the span of just four months, Otto Perez Molina's presidency in Guatemala was shattered.

In reality, what is important is not that the former president lost immunity or resigned. What is important are the implications of the corruption scandal revealed by the United Nations-back International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG). A case that implicated former President Perez Molina as the head of a parallel criminal structure that included former military officers, businessmen and customs agents. How was it possible that in just weeks this entire criminal structure was shattered into smithereens?

What is due to the quality of the investigations by the CICIG?

Yes; the investigators are not making the type of errors that could allow the case to be thrown out on technicalities. What's more, the investigations are not based exclusively on witness testimonies (as was the case while Carlos Castresana was the head of the CICIG). The cases are supported by wiretaps and well as documentation.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

It is important not to forget that on the day the scandal was made public, private offices of the businessman Luis Mendizabal were raided, which enabled the CICIG to confiscate documents and computers. This would not be important save for the fact that Mendizabal, a civilian without a government position but with a history of conducting private intelligence, allegedly had direct access to information on Guatemala's customs offices thanks to a complex system of computer screens installed in his office.

But what is most striking is not the massive fraud network the investigation has revealed, but rather how easily the criminal structure was dismantled. This network known as “La Linea” was a parallel structure that defrauded the merchandise that passed through Guatemala's customs offices. The money that should have gone towards paying import taxes was sent to La Linea operators, which was then shared throughout the criminal structure, including Perez Molina and ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti, according to prosecutors.

More than just a traditional criminal structure worried about operating in the shadows, this was a parallel business structure that could be utilized by a diverse array of businessman. The lack of prudence shown by its members is noteworthy considering that intercepting phone calls is a common practice used by the CICIG. In fact, it was the wiretaps which revealed that those involved in the scandal used little discretion.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Why so little precaution? If the network was allegedly run by the president of the country, who gave orders directly or through the vice president's private secretary, there was no reason to fear that the investigations would penetrate the network. The lack of suspicion was fueled by the apparent protective cloak that came from the presidency, since it is believed that the country's highest office administered the corruption.

Now, how was it possible to know which telephones to tap? There are several ways, but the most common is always "rats" who talk to authorities after having been left without their fair share of the earnings. It should be kept in mind that “criminal operators” who are not very careful with their phone conversations are also not very attentive to paying everyone involved in the chain of corruption. This is not only the most common, but also the most efficient means of generating information. Since its inception, the CICIG has not been against using this system.

It is also possible that members of Guatemala's class of economic elites -- who are traditionally associated with not paying taxes -- wanted to save themselves from the tsunami this case had unleashed. The alleged negotiations between former head of the CICIG Carlos Castresana and members of the private sector are also well-known.

Whatever may be the case, it is certainly an interesting story: reckless criminals, rats aboard the ship, and a president who apparently wanted to play mafioso.

*Sessional lecturer, Guelph University, Overseas Semester - 2015.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


The killing of four young people in Paraguay’s border city of Pedro Juan Caballero has led back to an imprisoned…

BARRIO 18 / 28 MAR 2022

A killing spree unlike anything seen since El Salvador’s civil war has delivered a macabre message from the country’s street…


With his leading opponent under house arrest for money laundering charges, Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega appears to be weaponizing the…

About InSight Crime


Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…


Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…


Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…


Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…


InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…