A Guatemalan judge has issued an arrest warrant for former attorney general and current presidential candidate Thelma Aldana, who previously led several high-profile corruption cases against political elites.
The unexpected warrant comes at a moment of extreme political tension in Guatemala, between the government of President Jimmy Morales and the entities investigating him, including the Attorney General's Office, which Aldana headed until last year.
The warrant is based on accusations of embezzlement, lying, and tax evasion. The charges stem from alleged contractual irregularities from when Aldana was in that role.
Melvin Medina, the attorney general in charge of administrative misconduct, says Aldana hired former Supreme Court lawyer Gustavo Bonilla to train staff in the Attorney General’s Office, but that this training never took place, despite Bonilla charging 20,000 quetzals ($2,600).
Aldana, who last week was named as the presidential candidate for the Semilla Movement party (Movimiento Semilla), has publicly denied the accusations and claims that a corrupt group of politicians led by Morales is trying to stop her from running for president.
“They are afraid of me running because I will continue the fight against corruption. A lot of people are worried about it,” Aldana told Prensa Libre.
Some lawyers claim Aldana’s registration as a presidential candidate grants her immunity from arrest. However, the director of the electoral registration process, Leopoldo Guerra, said that she would only be granted legal protection for three days, ending March 22, during which time other parties can challenge her registration.
Aldana, who is currently visiting El Salvador, has postponed her return to Guatemala while she evaluates her legal situation.
InSight Crime Analysis
Thelma Aldana, who took on high-profile corruption cases against political elites as Guatemala’s former top prosecutor, has long faced claims of wrongdoing, racking up 18 formal accusations, mostly by her political opponents.
According to Salvadoran news outlet El Faro, the most recent accusations come from the political party Todos. A prominent Todos member, Vice President of Congress Felipe Alejos, is currently being investigated by the MP and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) for his suspected involvement in a criminal network.
Alejos, whose clout in Congress has been instrumental in protecting President Jimmy Morales’ own immunity, created a commission in September 2018 to investigate Aldana’s alleged involvement in the irregular purchase of a building to be used by the ministry.
Aldana worked closely with CICIG commissioner Iván Velásquez to take on elite corruption, including conducting high-profile investigations into illicit financing during the 2015 presidential campaign. CICIG’s ongoing investigations into illicit campaign financing implicate both Morales’ ruling party -- the National Convergence Front (Frente de Convergencia Nacional – FCN-Nación) and that of presidential candidate Sandra Torres – the National Unity of Hope (Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza – UNE) -- who is currently neck and neck in presidential polls with Aldana.
The timing of the warrant -- signed one day before Aldana registered as a presidential candidate -- adds weight to her argument that a corrupt political mafia is abusing government institutions to ensure that the one candidate most likely to disrupt the status quo of elite corruption and impunity does not assume the presidency.