With cries of corruption mounting against Guatemala’s president, the country’s Attorney General, Consuelo Porras, has taken minimal action and instead ramped up her crackdown on prosecutors investigating high-level graft.
Prosecutor Carlos Antonio Videz Navas, who was previously involved in a corruption probe implicating President Alejandro Giammattei, has fled Guatemala fearing for his safety and possible legal attacks. Videz Navas announced his resignation and departure in a February 20 statement while accusing Attorney General Porras of obstructing the work of independent prosecutors like himself.
“It’s clear [Porras] has stepped up her plan to guarantee impunity for the criminal networks she should be investigating,” Videz Navas said in his parting statement.
His departure comes a week after explosive allegations linked President Giammattei to a million-dollar bribe scandal, which was first reported by the El Faro media group.
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According to El Faro’s investigation, a former presidential confidant turned witness told prosecutors that Giammattei negotiated about $2.6 million in bribes from construction firms to fund his 2019 election campaign. In return, Giammattei agreed to keep prominent minister José Luis Benito Ruiz in his post while he continued to operate a lucrative corruption scheme linked to infrastructure projects, according to the witness.
The testimony implicating Giammattei, recorded in May 2021, formed part of an investigation into Benito Ruiz, who is now charged with money laundering and fraud. Videz Navas worked on the case and was one of the prosecutors who solicited the testimony from the witness, according to his statement and elPeriódico.
The Attorney General’s Office has not commented on the allegations against President Giammattei, instead announcing plans to investigate a possible information leak in the wake of El Faro’s report.
In a separate case cited in a New York Times report last August, another witness claimed to prosecutors to have delivered a rolled-up carpet stuffed full of money to the president’s house. Prosecutors announced a probe into the possible bribe, but the Attorney General’s Office has yet to provide an update.
The president’s office has denied the allegations that Giammattei engaged in corruption.
The recently exiled Videz Navas worked on several corruption cases implicating political elites as a prosecutor for Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad – FECI). He was transferred to a different branch of the Attorney General’s Office amid a reshuffle last August.
Five FECI officials have handed in resignation letters in February 2022 alone, a spokesperson for Attorney General’s Office told local press.
InSight Crime Analysis
In the past year, Guatemala’s Attorney General Consuelo Porras has fired or removed a number of prosecutors investigating high-profile graft, including cases linked to the president. But in recent weeks her office has mounted more aggressive legal attacks, landing some former prosecutors in jail and driving others into exile.
“The Attorney General is acting with the sole purpose of protecting the president,” said Juan Francisco Sandoval, the former head of FECI who went into exile after he was controversially fired by Porras in July 2021.
“What we now have is an environment and a plan for persecuting those doing investigative work,” he told InSight Crime, adding that 17 Guatemalan judicial officials are now in exile.
In the wake of El Faro’s investigation, Guatemala authorities arrested a string of active and former prosecutors. Many had investigated cases implicating political elites.
On February 15, authorities arrested former FECI prosecutor Eva Siomara Sosa, whom the Attorney General’s Office is investigating for alleged obstruction of justice in a sealed case. Sosa, who is being held in preventative detention, told local press outside a Guatemala City courthouse that she fears for her life in jail.
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A day after Sosa’s arrest, authorities detained a pair of FECI prosecutors involved in a major probe into alleged corruption in the appointment of magistrates to Guatemala’s high courts. The Attorney General’s Office has charged both with abuse of authority for allegedly coercing an informant into providing false testimony.
The charges drew immediate criticism at home and abroad. In a February 16 statement, a spokesperson for the US State Department said the Guatemala Attorney General’s Office intends to “single out and punish Guatemalans who are combatting impunity and promoting transparency and accountability.”
The Attorney General’s Office has also taken aim at prominent anti-corruption judge, Erika Lorena Aifán Dávila. Aifán has faced three requests this year to have her judicial immunity lifted on grounds of obstruction of justice and abuse of authority – most recently on February 16 – leaving her vulnerable to prosecution. Months earlier, Aifán refused to pass on the identity of the witness who testified against Giammattei to prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office, according to El Faro.
“They are trying to dismantle any case that could reveal how the major criminal networks in Guatemala operate,” said Sandoval, the former FECI director.