The latest development in the corruption case that has toppled Guatemala’s Vice President has brought the anti-impunity campaigners behind the investigation into confrontation with an old foe that is threatening to undermine their efforts — corrupt judges.
On May 8, Guatemalan authorities arrested three lawyers representing defendants in the “La Linea” customs fraud corruption case that forced Vice President Roxana Baldetti to resign her post. The lawyers stand accused of running what investigators are calling a “Law Firm of Impunity,” which offered clients access to corrupt contacts in the judicial system.
In the La Linea case, the alleged corrupt contact was judge Marta Josefina Sierra Gonzalez de Stalling. According to the United Nation’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which launched the investigation, phone intercepts show how leading defendants in the case were able to obtain unguarded house arrest instead of prison and a reduction in bail by using the lawyers to pay off the judge.
In addition to the arrests, the CICIG has filed a request for the judge to be removed from the case and impeached.
The scandal has also drawn in the president of the criminal chamber at the Supreme Court, Blanca Stalling, whose name was also mentioned in the intercepted conversations, reported The Associated Press. However, Stalling told Prensa Libre it was a case of mixing up the names of the two judges — Gonzalez de Stalling is Stalling’s sister-in-law.
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The La Linea case — in which former Vice President Baldetti’s private secretary allegedly led a corruption network that made millions off customs tax fraud — has shaken the foundations of Guatemala’s political system and looks set to have the deepest impact of any investigation in the CICIG’s eight year history.
However, to successfully convict the powerful figures behind the alleged fraud ring, the CICIG and prosecutors will first have to overcome deeply ingrained judicial corruption, which has long served to ensure such elites enjoy widespread impunity.
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The CICIG will be acutely aware of this, having dedicated considerable resources to exposing such corruption in the past. The “Law Firm of Impunity” investigation follows on from the body’s 2012 report “Judges of Impunity,” which identified 18 judges who had consistently made unjustified decisions favoring organized crime groups.
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