HomeNewsDespite Outrage, Guatemala Continues to Bulldoze Anti-Corruption Edifice

Despite Outrage, Guatemala Continues to Bulldoze Anti-Corruption Edifice


The dismissal of Juan Francisco Sandoval, the country's leading anti-corruption prosecutor, marks the formal end of efforts to strengthen anti-corruption bodies in Guatemala.

On July 23, Attorney General Consuelo Porras fired Sandoval as head of the country's Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad – FECI), an investigative unit that was set up with international assistance and spearheaded the country's most high-profile corruption investigations. Sandoval has since fled the country.

In a statement released by the Attorney General's Office, Porras cited "humiliations" and a "lack of confidence in the relationship" as reasons for Sandoval's dismissal but did not provide further detail.

The backlash came swiftly. On July 24, hundreds of protesters took to the streets across the country in anger at the decision. In Guatemala City's Constitution Square and outside the Attorney General's Office, people carried signs demanding Porras' resignation, as well as that of President Alejandro Giammattei.

Photo: InSight Crime/Alex Papadovassilakis

There was also rapid international concern at the dismissal. In the United States, Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter that: "We stand with the people of Guatemala and with Prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval."

Washington had sent many covert and overt signals of its support for Sandoval. Last February, for instance, Sandoval was named an Anticorruption Champion by the United States government.

It didn't matter. According to official documents cited in elPeriódico, Sandoval was dismissed for having opposed Porras' decision days earlier to transfer a FECI prosecutor to another unit and replace him with a prosecutor accused of obstructing justice.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala’s Attorney General Lashes Out Against Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office

Sandoval did not go quietly. Shortly after being dismissed, he gave an explosive press conference to a packed room of journalists, qualifying his dismissal as "illegal" and accusing Attorney General Porras of obstructing FECI investigations on multiple occasions.

This included a request from FECI prosecutors to arrest former presidential candidate and first lady, Sandra Torres, who was under investigation for alleged illicit campaign financing. Porras responded by saying the prosecutors were "exaggerating," according to Sandoval.

Sandoval also said Porras also tried to block investigations into political mafias seeking to stack Guatemala's courts by instructing prosecutors to avoid investigating certain individuals such as Néster Vásquez, a current Constitutional Court magistrate linked to the court mafias.

"In this Attorney General's Office, what's inconvenient [for corrupt actors] gets delayed, and what's convenient gets sped up," he said.

Photo: InSight Crime/Alex Papadovassilakis

Prior to his removal, Sandoval had also faced numerous legal challenges aimed at obstructing his work. Porras approved many. In June, FECI faced down a legal challenge that sought to declare its mandate unconstitutional.

Sandoval's replacement as head of FECI will be Carla Isidra Valenzuela Elías, an experienced prosecutor specializing in investigation techniques and a long-time Porras confidante.

InSight Crime Analysis

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Sandoval's dismissal is that it took so long. In an interview with InSight Crime in June 2020, Sandoval all but predicted his removal.

"There is a systematic attack against any who fight to stop impunity, such as prosecutors, FECI and judges," he said, adding that "mechanisms of state to ensure impunity have only become more sophisticated."

The public face of Guatemala's campaign against high-level graft, Sandoval had long been a key target for groups seeking to tank anti-corruption efforts. His firing comes as FECI investigators appeared to be inching closer to corruption in the current administration of President Alejandro Giammattei.

"In the last few months, FECI started investigating things which made them too uncomfortable," Sandoval said in the July 23 press conference, adding the decision to remove him was "something planned several months ago."

Specifically, he spoke of Porras' resistance when FECI continued investigations into possible links between a multimillion-dollar cash seizure and President Giammattei's former private secretary, Giorgio Bruni. Sandoval said that parts of this investigation were kept secret from Porras for fear she would block FECI raids.

SEE ALSO: The Legacy of How Guatemala Destroyed its Own Anti-Corruption Crusade

According to Sandoval, FECI also detected meetings between current President Giammattei and Russian citizens – a timely accusation in light of a highly controversial deal reached by the Guatemala government to purchase Sputnik vaccines that sparked accusations of corruption.

Any investigations linked to President Giammattei, who described Sandoval's work as biased in June, would have to be approved by Porras, Sandoval said.

The former FECI head also explained how a notorious political operator implicated in an array of corruption cases, Gustavo Alejos, had recently become a cooperating witness who had "testified to events regarding current officials, members of congress and judges."

This potentially damaging testimony may also help explain the timing of Porras' decision.

Sandoval's allegations make it highly unlikely FECI will be able to launch future investigations into active government officials without facing further obstruction from within the Attorney General's Office.

His dismissal will also cast a shadow over several ongoing corruption cases led by FECI, including a major case involving Guatemala's jailed former president, Otto Pérez Molina, scheduled for trial in early 2022.

The backlash against Sandoval's dismissal is not happening in a vacuum. FECI was the last vestige of the international push to root out corruption from inside the government. The most visible manifestation of this push was the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG), a United Nations-backed judicial body that helped set up FECI and prosecute these corruption cases during the 12 years it was in the country. It was shut down in 2019.

Concerns about the systematic dismantling of Guatemala's anti-corruption mechanisms have been gradually building since, especially in the United States. But with Guatemala a critical partner in the United States' attempts to stop migration and illicit drug flows, it is uncertain if this concern will lead to greater action or simply tweets from afar.

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.


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.


Related Content


A Guatemalan prosecutor investigating a recent massacre involving the Zetas, a Mexican drug gang, was found mutilated and murdered in…


Evidence suggests that Mexican cartels are not only deepening their drug trafficking activities in Central America but may be diversifying…

COCAINE / 4 FEB 2021

Drug trafficking has been reconfigured in Guatemala. The large clans that traditionally dominated the business have broken up.

About InSight Crime


Unraveling the Web of Elites Connected to Organized Crime

27 JUL 2021

InSight Crime published Elites and Organized Crime in Nicaragua, a deep dive into the relationships between criminal actors and elites in that Central American nation.


InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.


Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.


Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.


Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.