Guatemalan President blocked by Courts from expelling UN-backed Anti-Corruption Prosecutor

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala On Sunday, August 27, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales ordered the expulsion from Guatemala of Ivan Velasquez, the Colombian prosecutor heading the UN supported anti-corruption panel CICIG.  Mr. Velasquez had requested that Guatemala’s Congress remove President Morales’ presidential immunity to investigation two days prior.

Guatemala’s Congress will make the decision on whether or not to revoke President Morales’ immunity to CICIG’s investigation. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

President Morales’ expulsion order was temporarily stopped by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, in response to which the President protested that the court was infringing on his authority over foreign affairs. On Monday, September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Velasquez’s request to remove President Morales’ immunity should be considered by Guatemala’s Congress.

Within the next few days, Guatemala’s Congress will form a small committee to examine the case and present their findings to the rest of Congress.  Two-thirds of the deputies in Congress would then have to vote in favor to remove presidential immunity. As reported by Al Jazeera, many of these deputies are also under investigation by CICIG.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is a UN-backed organization that has been operating in Guatemala since 2007.  CICIG was begun to combat the widespread governmental and criminal collusion that flourished in Guatemala after 36 years of civil war.  Ivan Velasquez led the CICIG in an investigation that resulted in the resignation and arrest of Guatemala’s previous president, Otto Pérez Molina, in 2015 on corruption charges.

President Morales has been under investigation for allegations of corruption stemming from over $800,000 of undisclosed funds received by his political party, the National Convergence Front, during his 2015 presidential campaign.  According to Reuters, President Morales’ son and brother are currently under CICIG investigation for fraudulent behavior.

In a statement to the Guardian, Anabella Sibrain, director of NGO International Platform against Impunity stated: “What we’ve seen today is an arbitrary act against internationally backed anti-corruption figureheads, but it is also a strong message to the country’s increasingly robust social movements that they could be next.”

Supporters of President Morales claim that CICIG is an example of United Nations interference in a sovereign nation’s judicial processes and a gross overreach.

 For more information, please see:

Brookings – What Guatemala’s political crisis means for anti-corruption efforts everywhere – 7 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala congress to weigh lifting Morales’ immunity – 4 September 2017

Reuters – Guatemalan president may be investigated in campaign finance case – 4 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala top court sides with UN anti-corruption unit – 29 August 2017

The New York Times – Showdown in Guatemala Over Investigation of President – 28 August 2017

The Guardian – Crisis flares in Guatemala over corruption and organized crime – 27 August 2017

Guatemala: Corruption Within Judiciary Threatens Fight Against Impunity

By Ricardo Zamora
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America Desk

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), set up as a joint venture panel between Guatemala and the United Nations to prosecute corrupt officials, could be in jeopardy. The last few weeks reveal that not even the well-intentioned are completely free from political pressures. Escalating pressures within the panel have led its chief, Carlos Castresana, to resign and have resulted in the removal from office of the attorney general, Conrado Reyes.

Problems began in May when the then-new attorney general, Reyes, began to remove prosecutors and investigators working with the CICIG. On June 7, Castresana objected to Reyes’ actions, asserting that Reyes was tied to organized crime — assertions which Reyes denies. Nevertheless, Castresana resigned immediately.

Less than one week later, the Guatemalan high court removed Reyes from office, albeit on the basis that the procedures followed by President Alvaro Colom in selecting Reyes for office had not followed the law. As it turned out, both positions are crucial for the CICIG to work but were both empty.

The UN provided some hope for the project by quickly appointing Francisco Dall’Anese of Costa Rica as the new director of the Panel. Mr. Dall’Anese, as attorney general in Costa Rica, led corruption investigations of two former presidents.

Many Guatemalans believe that the commission is the only bulwark against entrenched power. For this reason, the government remains worried as it continues to struggle to find a replacement attorney general and is concerned as to who will ultimately be picked. The CICIG is clearly having an impact against corruption but the internal strife shows how vulnerable it, itself, is to the same.

Guatemalans believe that no place or person in Guatemala is safe from entrenched power. Two years ago when Vinicio Gomez, the Guatemalan Interior Minister, began investigating drug trafficking, he started receiving death threats. A short time later, his helicopter crashed, killing him. Alba Trejo, Gomez’s widow, has appealed to the CICIG to hear his case. Although in an unofficial capacity, Mr. Castresana nevertheless attended the news conference to support Ms. Trejo and to support Mr. Gomez’s case.

Several similar deaths and killing await investigation but any enquiries remain in limbo as the CICIC muscles its way back onto its feet. Its casework includes other cases of government corruption going back years in Guatemala’s history.

Several former officials, from Defense Ministry officials to ex-President Alfonso Portillo, are accused of embezzlement. Others, such as former police chiefs, are in jail facing drug-related charges whilst still another is charged with running and extortion and hit squad.

Castresana reported that in 2009, only 230 of 6,451 killings were resolved. The fight against impunity in Guatemala remains an enormous job for the CICIG and people like Carlos Castresana.

Nineth Montenegro, an influential congresswoman, stated that “we have a police force that is penetrated… a prosecutor general’s office that is penetrated [and] a president who appears not to see anything.” She added, “In Guatemala, we never know who we are talking to. I have to believe in someone, and I believe in him, in Carlos.”

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Political Struggle Strains Guatemala’s Justice System – 3 July 2010

Americas Quarterly – New CICIG Commissioner Selected in Guatemala – 2 July 2010

Guatemala Times – Carlos Castresana, UN Commissioner Against Impunity in Guatemala Resigns – 8 June 2010

Guatemalan Judges, Cops, Polticians, and Business Bankrolled by Organized Crime

By Brenda Lopez Romero
Impunity Watch reporter – North America desk

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig) reported that government officials and business people are bankrolled by Guatemala’s powerful criminal organizations.  The corruption of judges, prosecutors, police, lawmakers and business executives puts organized crime above the law

Carlos Castresana, jurist in charged of Cicig, stated, “Let’s not fool ourselves: there are judges who are on the payrolls, there are business owners, there are politicians, there are legislators who work for these groups,” and added “Each has his sectors of interest and his groups to protect.”

The success of Cicig and the newly implemented Attorney General’s Office in identifying organized criminals, including recent arrests of high-ranking police officers and former President Alfonso Portillo, gave organized crime something to be concerned.  Castresana said “The bad guys don’t know what we have, but as we translate that information into evidence and we bring it before the courts, our cards will be revealed as we put them on the table.”

Castresana also points to an attempt to discredit Cicig as a counter reaction by organized crime, such as press reports criticizing Cicig work.  He commented “We knew this was going to happen. We’re not particularly scared or alarmed, naturally the falsehoods we are seeing published bother us,”

“The press was outraged when, a year ago, I said that (the criminal organizations) are also in the media, and they asked for names: well, there they are, there you have them,” Castresana said.

For more information, please see:

Latin American Herald Tribune – Judges, Cops and Politicians on Mob Payrolls in Guatemala – 12 April 2010

La Prensa – Judges, cops and pols on mob payrolls in Guatemala – 12 April 2010