Legislators in Guatemala voted to revoke the judicial immunity of a judge suspected of collaborating in a port corruption scheme that reaches to the highest levels of government, marking a clear step forward in a major corruption investigation that appears likely to expand even further.
In a 136-0 vote, Guatemala's National Congress revoked the immunity of magistrate Douglas Charchal who is suspected of unduly wielding influence to affect the outcome of port development permit applications, reported La Prensa.
The charges are connected to a larger corruption investigation, now dubbed the Quetzal Container Terminal (Terminal Contendadores Quetzal- TCQ) case, in which ousted former President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti stand accused of taking upwards of $25 million in bribes from a Spanish company, Grup TCB, attempting to win a concession for the development of a new terminal at the TCQ facility. The TCQ port, located at Puerto Quetzal along the country's pacific coast, is the largest container port facility in Guatemala.
With his judicial immunity revoked by the legislature, the path is cleared for Charchal to face formal charges of influence trafficking. Specifically, he stands accused of exerting pressure on personal connections to ensure a favorable outcome for Grup TCB in the review of its construction license applications by a lower regional court with jurisdiction over the port facility. ElPeriodico reported that Charchal received a new, armored Range Rover from the company.
"We believe there are indicators that corroborate some type of link to the judge, and we believe the most reasonable thing to do is to have him clarify his situation in front of a judge," said Congressman Orlando Blanco.
Charchal had previously submitted a provisional petition in front of the country's Constitutional Court asking for constitutional protection from prosecution in advance of the legislature's vote. The Constitutional Court declined that petition on May 10.
Vladimir Aguilar, Guatemala's former Attorney General and current magistrate, is also facing charges that he is linked to the TCQ corruption scheme.
The United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) has been leading the TCQ investigation jointly with Guatemala's Public Ministry.
InSight Crime Analysis
As the case moves forward and concrete steps are taken to pursue charges against Charchal, the question of how broadly the investigation will expand remains an open one. The charges in the TCQ case already reach the highest levels of government, with both the former president and vice president directly implicated, but if prosecutors choose to pursue charges against Spanish nationals linked to the scheme, that would represent an unprecedented expansion of scope for CICIG as its work to-date has exclusively focused on domestic investigations.
Regardless of whether the investigation expands internationally, as the case develops, it is likely to further tarnish the reputations of Pérez Molina and Baldetti, both of whom are currently detained and awaiting trial on separate charges of corruption involving a customs fraud ring.