A former presidential candidate, who was also a minister during the administration of jailed former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, has been accused of running a corruption and money laundering network, revealing another chapter in the story of Guatemala's mafia state.
In a July 14 press conference, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG), together with officials of the Attorney General's Office and the Interior Ministry, presented results of an investigation which exposed a new corruption structure led by Alejandro Sinibaldi Aparicio.
Sinibalidi was Infrastructure, Housing and Communications Minister (Ministerio de Comunicaciones Infraestructura y Vivienda - MICIVI) during the administration of Pérez Molina and was also previously a candidate for the presidency of Guatemala in 2015. The former minister faces charges of illicit association, passive bribery, money laundering and illicit electoral financing.
According to the investigations, Sinibaldi received $10 million in bribes from private construction companies throughout his MICIVI years, funneled through a number of shell companies. In exchange for these bribes, the construction companies received preferential treatment from MICIVI in areas like project contracting and debt forgiveness.
At the press conference, CICIG announced that it had already arrested 17 people linked to the case and had arrest warrants for 15 more, including Julio Ligorría, the former Guatemalan ambassador to the United States.
Ligorría is accused of negotiating with Telgua, one of the leading telecommunications companies in Guatemala, to pay Sinibaldi $2 million in exchange for favoring the company in a conflict with Tigo, its main competition.
The bribes received by Sinibaldi through this scheme were invested in luxury properties and goods, and were also used to finance the campaigns of Pérez Molina's Patriot Party (Partido Patriota - PP) in 2011 and 2015. CICIG has since verified these allegations.
On July 17, a Twitter account allegedly linked to Sinibaldi broadcast a statement in which the minister denied the accusations against him and described CICIG's investigations as "sick persecution."
El equipo legal de Alejandro Sinibaldi a la Opinión Pública informa: @JLFont001 @lfvalenzuela @RodrigoPolo @VaderDarth55 @GladysR_gtv pic.twitter.com/JlkRE7u6xY
— @SinibaldiLegal (@sinibaldilawyer) 17 de julio de 2017
InSight Crime Analysis
The accusations against Sinibaldi add a new link to the corruption scheme that operated in Guatemala during the administration of Pérez Molina and his vice president Roxana Baldetti. Pérez Molina, Baldetti and other top officials, such as former Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla, placed different parts of the government at the service of criminal networks and corruption plots for personal enrichment, creating what InSight Crime considers a mafia state.
SEE ALSO: Defining a Mafia State: The Case of Guatemala
Sinibaldi was a figure close to Pérez Molina and his case fits within the structure of the mafia state, above all because according to the formal accusations, he laundered money illicitly obtained from private companies to finance the ex-president's campaigns.
In fact, Sinibaldi has been considered a fugitive in the eyes of Guatemalan justice since last year, when CICIG began investigating him in relation to the case known as the Cooptation of the State ("Cooptación del Estado"). This investigation exposed how the networks organized by Pérez Molina and Baldetti received money unlawfully from contractors to fund their joint presidential campaign in 2011.
SEE ALSO: Guatemala's Government Corruption Scandals Explained
Sinibaldi's apparent response to the accusations against him is part of a widespread trend on the part of those investigated by CICIG, in which they accuse the commission of acting arbitrarily or protecting foreign interests. There have also been smear campaigns on social networks against CICIG and its commissioner, which aim to negatively impact public opinion and prevent the renewal of the commission's mandate.