Guatemala's congress has named to the country's Constitutional Court a judge who is under investigation for obstruction of justice, in a brazen attempt by political mafias to infiltrate the country's highest courts and stack the deck.
On the night of January 26, a bloc of 82 legislators voted along official party lines to elect Judge Mynor Moto to Guatemala's Constitutional Court, various news outlets reported. Moto's election -- he will replace a deceased judge on the five-member court -- was immediately criticized by civil society and opposition groups.
Though he has already been sworn in by Congress, Moto has yet to assume his role on the Constitutional Court. Moto currently faces at least ten legal challenges against him that must be resolved before he can legally take his seat.
The Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad - FECI) in the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office has investigated Moto in connection to an influence-peddling scheme perpetrated by powerful groups in the election of judges to Guatemala's highest courts, including the country's Constitutional Court, elPeriódico reported. The investigation, known as the 2020 Parallel Commissions, saw the Attorney General’s Office call for the stripping of immunity of 13 judges.
Gustavo Alejos Cámbara, a former public official and powerful political operator now jailed on corruption charges, allegedly headed the influence-peddling scheme. According to investigations by the FECI, Alejos and Moto met on several occasions, La Hora reported.
On January 4, the FECI called for a preliminary hearing request against Moto to push forward an investigation on charges of breach of public duty and obstruction of justice, La Hora reported. The charges stem from Moto's attempts to seize control of the Parallel Commissions case, according to FECI.
Despite the accusations against Moto, Guatemala’s Bar Association of Lawyers and Notaries (Colegio de Abogados y Notarios de Guatemala - CANG) elected him in January as a candidate to serve on the Constitutional Court, a position that had to be ratified by congress.
The vote was later questioned by lawyers and judicial advocates. National bar association officials have come under scrutiny on several occasions for attempts to influence the selection of judicial officials, including the attorney general.
The lawsuits against Moto prevented legislators from voting on his selection to the court. But an appeals court issued a decisive ruling in one of the challenges against Moto on January 26, which the official bloc of representatives took to be a green light for voting on Moto's selection to the Constitutional Court.
InSight Crime Analysis
Mynor Moto’s swearing-in as a Constitutional Court judge is the latest salvo by powerful political elites to undermine the country’s judicial institutions, which have been badly battered.
These same elites had lost much of their power over the last decade thanks to high-profile graft investigations by the Attorney General’s Office, FECI and the now defunct United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG). Prosecutors and investigators put high-level officials in prison for cases of corruption and drug trafficking, and they revealed the existence of corruption networks and schemes devised by businessmen and public officials to embezzle government funds.
The corruption investigations eventually reached all the way to former President Jimmy Morales, the country’s president between 2016 and 2020, and his family members. Morales launched a crusade to expel the CICIG and to shutter its investigations, which he finally achieved at the end of 2019. During his term, Morales named as Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who has since tried to debilitate the FECI, the prosecutor’s office that had worked hand-in-hand with the CICIG on high-impact cases.
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Morales’ crusade coincided with Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House. Trump and his officials in the region made migration the only bilateral relations issue with Guatemala, and they did not move a finger to prevent the dismantling of anti-corruption institutions.
Since the CICIG's ouster, the FECI and the Constitutional Court have remained an important check on political and business elites during Morales' last months in office and during the administration of current President Alejandro Giammattei, according to international human rights groups.
These institutions now clearly have the support of US President Joe Biden's administration and Democrats in congress.
A few hours after Moto took the oath to become a Constitutional Court judge, the US embassy in Guatemala City posted on its Twitter account that the selection processes should be "legitimate, open and transparent." One day later, Julie Chung, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, went a step further, saying in a tweet that Moto’s election to the court “threatens the rule of law ... and debilitates the integrity of the court.”
If Mynor Moto does eventually assume his seat on the Constitutional Court, it will only be until April of this year, when the term for the current court comes to an end. In that time, however, he will have a vote that will influence the composition of the next court.