Corruption Investigations Implicate President; Guatemalans Urge Reforms Before Elections

BarramosCorruption-N.Rivera(A version of this article by Kelsey Alford-Jones was first published by TeleSUR)

Investigations into corruption in Guatemala have expanded to the highest levels of government as President Otto Pérez Molina and his former Vice President Roxana Baldetti were named on Friday as the head of “La Linea,” a criminal structure that has been robbing an unknown amount — but what could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars — from the State. Baldetti, who resigned on May 8, is in police custody, and will face prosecution for criminal conspiracy, customs fraud and accepting bribes. Guatemala’s top court also approved a process to repeal the president’s immunity from prosecution, and the matter now awaits a decision from the congress.

These investigations have spurred massive and sustained protests calling for the president’s resignation and represents a historic opportunity to bring about meaningful reform in a moment when the nation is on the verge of institutional collapse. With unprecedented momentum building to address unbridled government corruption and impunity, the biggest impediment to successful reform may be the September 6 elections.

Corruption Exposed

The move to bring the president and vice president to justice is only the latest development in a series of corruption scandals that have linked numerous high-level public officials, and all major political parties, to corruption and other illicit activities. In May alone, seven different government ministers resigned or were fired, many under investigation for charges ranging from granting anomalous contracts and influence trafficking, to criminal conspiracy and fraud. This week, numerous cabinet members resigned, including at least five more government ministers. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: August 17-24

Guatemala President Balks at Calls for Resignation

With just weeks until Guatemala’s general elections, public prosecutors and the CICIG revealed that they have uncovered enough evidence to place President Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti at the top of a tax fraud scandal that has rocked the country since mid-April. Baldetti was arrested on August 21.

The announcement prompted another wave of resignations from government ministers; however, President Pérez Molina again rejected calls for his resignation in a public statement on Sunday.

Guatemalans Say Reforms Needed Before Any Future Election

In this opinion piece, GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones discusses Guatemala’s current political context, ponders what might happen next in the country, and explains the risks of moving forward with elections without much-needed reforms.

A related article also highlights the dismal conditions for holding Guatemala’s presidential election.

Doctors say Guatemala ex-dictator Rios Montt has dementia

On August 18, a team of medical evaluators ruled that Ríos Montt suffers from “incurable” dementia, a development which could prevent Montt from ever again facing trial. This was the final decision in a series of psychiatric evaluations of Montt that has delayed the trial for weeks. In a hearing is set for August 25, judges will decide whether or not the retrial will move forward. Continue reading

Discovery of Judicial Corruption Network Brings Hope for Overdue Reforms

by Jason Mann, GHRC Summer 2015 Intern

Captured lawyer Jose Arturo Morales. Photo: Insight Crime.

Captured lawyer Jose Arturo Morales. Photo: Insight Crime.

After the investigation into a web of judicial corruption, nicknamed the “Law Firm of Impunity,” Guatemala’s failed judicial system may be headed for long-needed reforms.

Revelations began in April 2015 when the UN-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) uncovered a massive tax fraud scheme involving numerous high-level government officials.

Among those directly incriminated in the corruption ring, dubbed “La Linea,” were the head of Guatemala’s customs enforcement and tax agency and the private secretary of Vice President Roxana Baldetti, Juan Carlos Monzón, who led the operation.

The scandal, one of the biggest in recent memory in Guatemala, barely had time to sink in, before a related scandal broke, prompted by judges who had suspiciously granted bail to the high level officials arrested. Corruption, it became clear, was being facilitated by those charged with upholding the law.

On May 8, the same day that Baldetti was forced to resign as vice president, the CICIG released phone recordings of wiretapped conversations between a ringleader of La Linea, Javier Ortiz, and businessman Luis Mendizábal. The conversation describes how Ortiz’s lawyers had bribed Judge Marta Josefina Sierra de Stalling to obtain reduced bail and a favorable house arrest sentence in exchange for a financial kickback. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: May 11-15

Guatemala Gets New VP in Wake of Tax Fraud Scandal

On May 14, Alejandro Maldonado was named as Guatemala’s new vice president following the resignation of Roxana Baldetti amid the revelation of a tax fraud scandal. On May 15, Erick Archila, head of Guatemala’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, also resigned due to what he called “political persecution.” Archila was summoned to appear this morning before a congressional commission investigating allegations of corruption against him, but refused to appear.

Meanwhile, citizens have continued to call for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and will move forward with another wave of national protests set for Saturday, May 16.

In Washington, DC, the Mayan League is also organizing people to gather in front of the White House at 10 am in an expression of solidarity with the thousands in Guatemala demanding an end to corruption and impunity.

Guatemala Ex-police Chief Loses Appeal Against Life Sentence

Ex-police chief Erwin Sperisen’s attempt to appeal a life sentence has been struck down by a Swiss court. Sperisen — who also has Swiss nationality — was found guilyy last year in Switzerland of killing seven prisoners in a jail in his home country of Guatemala. Continue reading

Statement by the Human Rights Convergence on the Resignation of Vice President Baldetti

On May 10, 2015, the Human Rights Convergence released a statement on the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti. (Full text in Spanish available below).

On April 16, the criminal ring “La Linea,” allegedly headed by Juan Carlos Monzon — private secretary of the then vice-president Roxana Baldetti — was uncovered. The magnitude of the fraud and the organization of the ring, which profited off the state’s tax system, presumes previous knowledge and personal gain on the part of the vice-president. This knowledge prompted Guatemalan society to demand Baldetti’s resignation.

In light of these events, the Convergence wishes to express its support to those who are mobilizing to demand an end to state corruption, as well as for the ongoing work of the CICIG. The Convergence also wishes to stress the need for investigations into the integrity of the justice system, as well as the candidates for the vice-presidency.


Por la Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos

1) El 16 de abril fue el inicio del desmantelamiento de una estructura criminal que utilizó el sistema aduanero y de recaudación tributaria para esquilmar recursos del erario y enriquecerse ilícitamente. Además del jefe de la Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (SAT), así como su antecesor, la investigación identificó al militar retirado Juan Carlos Monzón, secretario privado de la vicepresidencia, como el cabecilla de la banda.

2) La magnitud de lo defraudado y el esquema funcional de la banda denominada “La Línea”, permiten inferir que la entonces vicemandataria no era ajena ni a la estructura ni a los beneficios de la misma. De allí que, desde el inicio la sociedad guatemalteca demandara la separación del cargo de la señora Baldetti Elías, a fin de facilitar la investigación y la acción judicial independiente.

3) La forma y el mecanismo en que la jueza contralora liberó mediante medida sustitutiva a los únicos cabecillas detenidos, puso de relieve que el pacto por la impunidad, suscrito entre el entorno económico-oligárquico-militar y los partidos Patriota y Libertad Democrática Renovada (Líder), daba sus frutos.

4) Desde un inicio el clamor social en diversos aspectos planteó la demanda de la renuncia, misma que fue presentada por la señora Baldetti, tres semanas después de los sucesos y luego de haber facilitado incluso, la fuga de su secretario.

5) Si no hubiese habido presión social, ningún otro sector se habría sentido obligado a requerir la renuncia hoy producida que deja al Congreso la responsabilidad de aceptarla y designar a un sustituto o sustituta de la ex vicemandataria. Así como deja en manos del sistema de justicia la oportunidad de reivindicarse y concretar el proceso de persecución penal con independencia.

6) Este proceso no habría sido posible sin dos factores fundamentales. En primer lugar, la inobjenetable investigación conducida por la Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG), desde hace más de año y medio. En segundo lugar, la persistente, digna y masiva movilización ciudadana en todo el país, en particular en la ciudad capital.

Por todo lo anterior, la Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos:

1) Saluda la demanda ciudadana por limpiar de corrupción y corruptos al aparato de Estado en todos los niveles, así como a las muestras de resistencia.

2) Felicita la investigación y acciones de la CICIG, a la vez que manifiesta su respaldo a las diligencias que aún habrá de emprender.

3) Dadas la condiciones en las que se ha desarrollado el caso judicial contra la Red “la línea” se hace necesario que la CICIG, el Ministerio Público y el Organismo Judicial den paso a una amplia investigación de operadores de justicia implicados en casos de corrupción y procuración de impunidad y con ello la persecución penal correspondiente.

4) Demanda del Congreso de la República resolver a la brevedad la sustitución de la vicepresidenta y evaluar con detenimiento y sin arreglos bajo la mesa, las cualidades de quienes aspiren a sucederla.

5) Respalda las convocatorias sociales y ciudadanas para continuar en el reclamo de depuración del sistema político y de justicia y llama a todos los sectores a acuerpar la demanda social de renovación plena del Estado, que modifique las condiciones institucionales y legales que permiten el modelo clientelar, corrupto e impune sobre el que se basa el funcionamiento de la Red hoy puesta al descubierto.

Guatemala, 10 de mayo de 2015
II Aniversario de la condena por genocidio