A former congresswoman in Guatemala was sent to prison to await trial for her alleged involvement in an embezzlement scheme, but these charges may be the tip of the iceberg given previous accusations of high-level corruption and involvement with organized crime lodged against her.
Former Congresswoman Emilenne Mazariegos was arrested and remanded to pretrial detention on charges of criminal association and money laundering, the Attorney General's Office and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) announced during a March 8 press conference.
Mazariegos, a former congresswoman for the Patriotic Party (Partido Patriota - PP), is one of the 12 individuals arrested for having allegedly embezzled funds from the Chicamán municipality of the Quiché department. Prosecutors say Mazariegos' partner, mother, uncle and brother-in-law were also part of the dismantled network.
According to the investigation, the Chimacán local government took out two separate loans for a total of 21 million quetzals (roughly $2.8 million) in 2012 to finance public works projects. These funds were transferred to a non-governmental organization called the National Pro-Development Association (Asociación Pro Desarrollo Nacional - APRODEN), whose legal representative was Mazariegos' mother. APRODEN then wired the funds to a subcontractor construction company.
But the investigation revealed that certain projects were left undone. More than 2.65 million quetzals (around $360,000) from the public funds were distributed among the 12 arrested individuals instead of being invested in the projects, reported Prensa Libre, describing Emilenne Mazariegos as the main beneficiary of the embezzled money.
InSight Crime Analysis
The charges against the criminal network are reminiscent of other cases in Guatemala where politicians have been accused of embezzling local funds by manipulating public work contracts, and in certain instances, using NGOs that subcontracted construction companies to steal the money.
But Mazariegos' case may hold particular significance due to previous suspicions of her involvement with politicians linked to organized crime.
As Insight Crime chronicled following a field investigation, Mazariegos has been suspected of serving as a go-between for Roxana Baldetti -- the former vice president of Guatemala, currently incarcerated for various crimes, including allegedly receiving kickbacks for awarding public contracts -- and the Huistas drug trafficking organization.
The Huistas are suspected of financing Mazariegos' successful 2011 campaign in the Huehuetenango department in order to gain an influential contact within Guatemala's highest political sphere. But the powerful crime group has so far managed to remain under the authorities' radar.
If the allegations of Mazariegos' links with the trafficking organization are true, her arrest and potential cooperation with authorities could spell future trouble for the Huistas.