A prison sentence against a former Guatemala vice president on corruption charges is a long-awaited victory for prosecutors amid an ongoing battle that has pitted the country’s elites and anti-corruption officials against each other.
Former Guatemala Vice President Roxana Baldetti was sentenced to serve 15 years and six months in prison for illicit association, fraud and influence peddling for her role in awarding a multimillion-dollar contract to clean Lake Amatitlán just south of the capital Guatemala City in 2014, the Attorney General’s Office announced in an October 9 press release.
The cleanup project was reportedly valued at 137.8 million quetzales (around $17 million), of which 22.8 million quetzales (around $3 million) was paid to acquire 23,000 liters of a sanitation formula that was later scientifically proven to be useless for cleaning the lake, according to prosecutors.
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Baldetti was among nine other individuals -- including her brother Mario Alejandro Baldetti Elías -- who were sentenced for their role in defrauding the state. The prison sentences ranged from three years to 15 years. Baldetti received the harshest penalty.
The former vice president also faces corruption charges in three other cases, including for her role in a massive customs fraud scandal known as La Linea that brought down former President Otto Pérez Molina. Baldetti was also indicted on cocaine trafficking charges in the United States in February 2017.
InSight Crime Analysis
The sentencing of former Vice President Baldetti is the first solid sentence that anti-corruption prosecutors in Guatemala have secured against a high-profile public official recently and comes amid an ongoing battle between the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) and Guatemala President Jimmy Morales.
In early September, Morales barred CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez from entering Guatemala just days after he asked the United Nations not to renew the CICIG’s mandate, which expires in September 2019.
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In the past, critics of the CICIG’s work have claimed that the anti-corruption commission pursues weak cases and is often manipulated for political reasons. However, Baldetti’s sentencing suggests that the CICIG’s case in this instance was in fact strong enough to secure a conviction and prison time.
"Guatemalan prosecutors succeeded ... in spite of repeated attempts by Baldetti’s lawyers and her allies to obstruct and delegitimize their efforts," Mike Allison, the head of the political science department at the University of Scranton told InSight Crime.
Allison also said that the former vice president's sentencing underscores the importance of the CICIG's work and their collaboration with Guatemalan prosecutors in improving the rule of law in the country, which is also a reason why elites might see the CICIG as a threat.
Indeed, the anti-corruption body currently has its sights set on President Morales, who, along with his National Convergence Front (Frente de Convergencia Nacional – FCN-Nación) political party, are under investigation for alleged illicit campaign financing during Morales’ 2015 bid for president.