HomeNewsBriefGuatemala Elites Exploited Health Sector to Pocket Millions: Prosecutors
BRIEF

Guatemala Elites Exploited Health Sector to Pocket Millions: Prosecutors

ELITES AND CRIME / 23 JUL 2019 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

Prosecutors in Guatemala are investigating a multimillion-dollar graft scheme within the country’s Public Health Ministry, in just the latest example of officials and business elites raiding the coffers of Latin America's health systems for personal gain. 

Prosecutors from the anti-impunity unit of the Attorney General’s Office and the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) are investigating more than 50 people -- including government officials -- for allegedly partaking in the scheme, which raked in millions of dollars in kickbacks between 2012 and 2014, according to a July 16 press release.

Among the accused is Jorge Villavicencio Álvarez, the country's health minister at that time. Prosecutors say he devised the scheme in which members allegedly received payments from companies contracted to build new hospitals and refurbish damaged ones after a 2012 earthquake off Guatemala’s Pacific coast impacted the country's hospitals and other infrastructure.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

Prosecutors say that the kickbacks for repairs totaled at least 17 million quetzales (around $2.2 million), while those received as part of the construction of new hospitals amounted to 36 million quetzales (around $4.7 million).

The network also purchased unnecessary medical equipment in exchange for bribes, and dolled out 450 jobs as “political favors." About 100 of these jobs, however, were “ghost” positions. Officials merely picked up paychecks without ever carrying out any work, according to authorities.

As health minister, Villavicencio Álvarez allegedly devised the scheme with his daughter, Cándida Saraí Villavicencio Delgado, and maintained it with former presidential candidate Luis Fernando Pérez Martínez. All three have yet to be arrested.

Authorities, however, have arrested 19 people, issued 29 arrest warrants and ordered 84 others to appear in court.

“What for Guatemalans meant tragedy and losses, such as the earthquake of November 2012, for the criminal structure it meant an opportunity for illicit businesses,” the news release states.

InSight Crime Analysis

Latin America’s health systems have been a frequent target of some of the region’s most corrupt public officials, who illicitly enrich themselves and their allies while endangering citizens. 

In Guatemala’s Northern Triangle neighbor of Honduras, authorities uncovered a massive corruption scandal of their own within the country’s Social Security Institute (Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social – IHSS) that saw citizens receive tainted medicine and improper treatment.

Authorities began investigating the institute in 2013. Eventually, they uncovered an intricate scheme composed of 10 so-called ghost companies that allegedly embezzled some $330 million. In 2015, President Juan Orlando Hernández admitted that companies linked to the “institutionalized corruption” within the IHSS contributed $150,000 to his successful 2013 presidential campaign.

Others estimate much more was funneled into the National Party and used in part for Hernández’s 2013 election run. Former IHSS Director Mario Zelaya, the mastermind of the graft scheme, was sentenced to more than 50 years in jail. The scandal also implicated a number of other elites.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Corrupt officials at the state level in Mexico have also enriched themselves through the country's health system. 

The disgraced former governor of the Gulf state of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, oversaw a corrupt public health system that allegedly “used fake medication to treat kids with cancer and knowingly bought" as many as 70,000 counterfeit HIV tests.

“They all gave out negative test results; they were detected in time and never reached the population, but eight million pesos (around $420,000) were spent with the knowledge that they were fake,” Antonio Nemi, who was Duarte’s health secretary between March 2013 and October 2014, told El Pais in 2017.

After six months on the run, Duarte, who transformed Veracruz into a “state of terror,” was arrested in April 2017 for numerous charges related to organized crime, corruption and embezzlement.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

CARIBBEAN / 13 SEP 2021

The dismantling of a drug trafficking and money laundering network implicating government officials in the Dominican Republic has presented a…

ELITES AND CRIME / 5 AUG 2021

Before the firing of Juan Francisco Sandoval, Guatemala’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, Attorney General Consuelo Porras pressured him to curtail investigations…

BRAZIL / 24 FEB 2022

Law enforcement in Latin America and Europe have disrupted a cocaine smuggling network that reached from Bolivia to Dubai, resulting…

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…