Guatemalan authorities arrested an important member of the Mendoza clan, the second big blow in 17 months inflicted on a family ranked among the country's criminal elite.
Walter Mendoza was among at least 14 people detained in a series of police raids in the states of Peten and Izabal, reported La Hora. He is charged with forced displacement, illicit association and money laundering.
The son of one of Mendoza's three brothers was also arrested and charged with displacement, a reporter for elPeriodico said on Twitter.
Guatemala's Public Ministry and the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) said during a press conference that the investigation started thanks to a tip from the country's top banking authority.
Video c/o Guatemalan Public Ministry
The detained are accused of forcibly displacing people from at least 28 estates worth an estimated $3.6 million, the Public Ministry said. They said Mendoza was mastermind of a scheme's that strong-armed people off their land and laid claim to it using fake documents and signatures -- some of them from dead people. The Mendozas relied on at least four corrupt notaries to help fake the documents and had collaborators within Guatemala's land agency, Fontierras.
The group initially sent armed men to threaten landowners into selling their estates, the Public Ministry added.
InSight Crime Analysis
The arrests represent another significant blow against the elite criminal group, following the arrest of Walter's brother, Haroldo, in November 2014. The Mendoza brothers are believed to be involved in drug trafficking activities, as well as violence against small landowners.
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It is noteworthy that Guatemalan prosecutors built a case against Walter Mendoza around his alleged illicit land seizures, suggesting that they did not have enough evidence to build a case involving drug trafficking or contraband. The bust could send a powerful message to other Guatemalan elites: that the Public Ministry is now willing and able to protect the public from this kind of land theft. Many indigenous communities in Guatemala report having lost their land to sugar plantations dedicated to ethanol production. As the case against Walter Mendoza proceeds, ideally it should set an important precedent in a country where illegal land theft often goes unpunished.
It is likely that Walter Mendoza's arrest will continue to weaken the family's criminal structure. They are believed to have lost much of their power in the underworld when Mexico's criminal Zetas group took over swathes of northern Guatemalan terrritory in 2010. However, with the Zetas' subsequent decline, the Mendozas have remained important power brokers in local politics. They are known for backing mayors and signing public works contracts with the government. A leaked US diplomatic cable suggested that one Mendoza brother may have had ties with the political party of disgraced ex-president Otto Perez Molina.