HomeNewsAnalysisPortillo’s Trial a Test for Guatemala’s Weak Justice System
ANALYSIS

Portillo’s Trial a Test for Guatemala’s Weak Justice System

GUATEMALA / 25 JAN 2011 BY ANDRES ORTIZ AND STEVEN DUDLEY EN

In what is undoubtedly the biggest test in the history of the traditionally rickety Guatemalan justice system, the trial of Guatemalan President, Alfonso Portillo, began this week.

The challenges are many and only begin with the charges: theft of $15 million from the Defense Ministry’s pension fund. If convicted and sentenced, Portillo may also have to face down extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on charges of money laundering and embezzlement of charity donations.

But what’s at stake is more than Portillo’s innocence or guilt, it’s the idea of justice in Guatemala. Less than four percent of all cases are prosecuted, and, like so many presidents and politicians before him, Portillo seemed to believe he was untouchable and that the extra cash was simply his reward for reaching the pinnacle.

His conviction would be the first step toward breaking that pattern, which has long contributed to Guatemala’s instability, corruption, poverty and one of the highest murder rates in the world. 

It took more than five years and the assistance of a United Nations’ prosecutorial body for Guatemalan authorities to finally bring the former president to trial. In 2004, Portillo fled to Mexico seeking a safe haven after losing his diplomatic immunity as a member of the Central American Parliament. There he managed to dodge several attempts to deport him to Guatemala. He was finally extradited in 2008, but freed on bail shortly thereafter.

Portillo’s case might have been forgotten were it not for the United Nations’ International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comision Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG). CICIG – which began work in 2006, assisting and training Guatemalan prosecutors and police – centered its efforts on breaking what it termed the “clandestine” networks that were part of Guatemala’s political and security sectors. Portillo fit squarely into this category.

As president, Portillo had hired several cabinet members who were former security and intelligence officials, including retired General Eduardo Arevalo Lacs, who became his defense minister. Arevalo Lacs had been linked to the Cofradia, a secretive group of former military officers who worked closely with organized crime.

CICIG’s investigation claims that Portillo worked closely with his defense minister to steal at least US$15 million. The two men were eventually arrested but Arevalo Lacs was freed in January 2011, after the case against him fell apart.

Now it’s Portillo’s turn, and the test for Guatemala is huge, as is the case, totalling more than 700 documents.

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Tags

Related Content

EL SALVADOR / 17 JAN 2020

The year 2019 saw the end of a brief golden era when local and international forces came together to fight…

ELITES AND CRIME / 19 AUG 2015

Authorities in Guatemala have captured two suspects linked to an alleged criminal network run by a powerful political family from…

ELITES AND CRIME / 2 MAR 2018

In another blow against anti-corruption efforts, President Jimmy Morales’ government replaced the head of the police and his top…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…