HomeNewsBriefCentral Banker Bargains Way Out of Prison in Guatemala
BRIEF

Central Banker Bargains Way Out of Prison in Guatemala

ELITES AND CRIME / 20 SEP 2016 BY TRISTAN CLAVEL EN

A former president of Guatemala’s Central Bank who admitted involvement in laundering $30 million will avoid serving jail time, a mixed result for an otherwise successful effort by prosecutors to counter corruption at the highest levels of the country’s bureaucratic elite.

Édgar Barquín, the former president of Guatemala’s Central Bank and 2015 vice-presidential candidate, was sentenced on September 16 to 30 months in prison for influence trafficking following a joint investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, know locally as the Public Ministry (Ministerio Publico – PM), and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), reported La Prensa Libre.

Barquín will not, however, serve prison time. The judge suspended his sentence on the attorney general’s recommendation as part of a plea bargain in which Barquín admitted guilt and agreed to cooperate with investigators. The banker is barred for five years from holding public office or exercising his political rights. Should Barquín commit any crime during that period, the suspension of his sentence will be lifted, according to the court’s ruling.

The investigation showed that Barquín and two members of congress, his brother Manuel de Jesús Barquín and Jaime Martínez Lohayza, were part of a criminal structure headed by Francisco Edgar Morales Guerra, alias “Chico Dólar.” The group conspired to launder money used to illegally finance the 2011 presidential campaign of the National Unity of Hope party (Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza).

SEE ALSOGuatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

The scheme consisted in diverting dirty money to the legal financial market through 200 front companies via money transfers involving more than 10 countries, reported Agencia EFE. The investigation revealed evidence of 686 international money wirings, for a total of 225 million Guatemalan Quetzals — the equivalent of $30 million — between 2008 and 2014. But the total amount of money laundered through the scheme reportedly could be up to $120 million.

Barquín’s crime was warning Chico Dólar of an upcoming investigation and later helping the campaign financier evade scrutiny for monetary gain.

InSight Crime Analysis

This is a mixed result that could provide a preview of things to come as it relates to the corruption cases against public officials that are still in motion. 

In other words, the fact that Guatemalan prosecutors supported by the CICIG were able to obtain a conviction against the former central banker is one more sign of progress in law enforcement’s aggressive effort to put an end to the impunity routinely enjoyed by corrupt officials in Guatemala. But the fact that he has escaped with a virtual slap on the wrist waters down that achievement.

The CICIG-supported effort against impunity in Guatemala has definitely made a difference, although the international commission’s progress has suffered ups and downs since it’s creation in 2007, as illustrated by the forced resignation of former President Otto Pérez Molina and the acquittal of one of his predecessors, Alfonso Portillo.

It is yet to be seen what cooperation Barquín is providing beyond his guilty plea, so the jury is still out on whether the leniency extended to this high-level official is a raw deal for Guatemala.

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