Authorities in Guatemala have arrested a former mayor and several local officials on corruption charges, a possible foreshadowing of what's to come in 2016 as prosecutors set their sights on municipal-level fraud networks.
Edgar Francisco Ruiz Paredes, mayor of the popular tourist city Antigua, Guatemala up until last week, was arrested on January 21 for alleged illicit association, extortion, and embezzlement, reported the Associated Press. Ten other local officials and citizens were also detained.
Prosecutors say the suspects were part of a corruption network that awarded government contracts to family members of another former mayor, Adolfo Vivar Marroquín, who was arrested on similar charges in 2012 and is currently in prison.
The Public Ministry (as the Attorney General's Office is known in Guatemala) and the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) led the investigation into the corruption network, reported La Hora.
The day before the arrests, the Public Ministry and CICIG stated their respective investigative teams would work together to target corruption at the municipal level in 2016.
InSight Crime Analysis
Ruiz may just be the first of many corrupt local officials to come under judicial scrutiny in 2016 as the Public Ministry and CICIG focus their attention on municipal corruption following a historic year for Guatemala's anti-impunity crusaders in 2015. The Public Ministry and CICIG worked together to uncover several corruption rings operating at the national level last year, including one within the customs office allegedly run by former President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. Both of the disgraced political figures are now in prison awaiting trial.
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The focus on municipal corruption could pay huge dividends, as mayors in Guatemala -- and across Latin America -- have managed to create what amount to criminal fiefdoms by embezzling public funds or colluding with drug trafficking groups. With little oversight from state and national authorities, these criminal-style networks are often run for years with impunity, as is seen in the Ruiz case.
However, going after municipal corruption presents its own set of challenges for Guatemala, which has 338 municipalities. Although not all are run by corrupt mayors, it is unclear how many resources the Public Ministry and CICIG can dedicate to investigating local politicians, while also building off progress made last year at the national level.