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  • Policemen escort Sandra Torres, former first lady and presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope (UNE) political party, after a hearing in Guatemala City, Guatemala September 2, 2019

    Policemen escort Sandra Torres, former first lady and presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope (UNE) political party, after a hearing in Guatemala City, Guatemala September 2, 2019 | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 September 2019

The charges stem from a case started by the now gone International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

Guatemalan police arrested Monday former presidential candidate Sandra Torres at her home on charges of violating campaign finance rules in 2015, just hours before the departure of the United Nations anti-corruption commission which initiated the investigation. 

RELATED:
Guatemala: Anti-corruption Body Departs, Says 'State Is Captured'

“She is charged with the crimes of failing to register election financing, and unlawful association,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement. 

Prosecutors brought the case against Torres in February after she had been registered as a candidate, so the case could not proceed due to immunity. 

However, a few days after losing the runoff election, on Aug. 15 Torres's lawyer voluntarily presented her passport and documentation to the judge and requested an initial hearing to be scheduled. The office said the warrant against her was issued on Friday.

The charges stem from a case started by the now gone International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). According to the attorney general’s office, her center-left National Unity of Hope (UNE) party received some US$3.5 million in undeclared financing during the 2015 presidential election, when she lost in the runoff to current President Jimmy Morales. 

The Guatemalan politician has denied the accusations. UNE holds the largest number of seats (52) in the new Congress, yet some fear this scandal will likely extinguish the party leaving them without a political movement when they hold office in 2020

Sandra Torres, former presidential candidate for UNE has being  transferred to the High-Risk Court A.
 

Both Torres and UNE have called her arrest to be “politically motivated”, reminding in a statement that she had offered to cooperate in the case. After been taken to a courthouse in Guatemala city she appeared before judge Claudette Dominguez, who ordered Torres to placed in custody to await trial.

“We reject this disproportionate and unnecessary measure against Sandra Torres,” said one of her closest aides, lawmaker Orlando Blanco, on Twitter.

Right-wing President-elect Alejandro Giammatei, who has previously said he would like to see Torres behind bars, said upon hearing the news he is “happy that the attorney general’s office is fulfilling its duty, in this and all the cases that have to do with corruption.”

'Guatemala A Captured State': U.N. Anti-Corruption Body Warns

Torres’ arrest comes as the U.N.-backed CICIG is set to leave the country after 12 years of work on Tuesday. 

Outgoing and right-wing President Jimmy Morales decided not to renew the mandate, as the commission was getting closer to investigating the president and his National Party (NP), for similar charges of illicit campaign financing during the 2015 campaign.

Shortly after news of the investigation surfaced, however, he began a smear campaign against CICIG, even stating that the anti-corruption body is a danger to national security. 

Yet on Thursday as CICIG employees packed dozens of boxes and papers, the U.N.-sponsored body presented its last activity in the form of a report called "Guatemala: a captured State.” 

The document concluded the entity’s work stating that the Central American country remains "a captured state" where groups of interest seek to perpetuate the “status quo” and “impunity.” 

The selected few groups acting as “illicit political and economic networks,” have multiplied and diversified over the last quarter of a century, Colombian lawyer and CICIG chief, Ivan Velasquez, said while presenting a review of the activity developed in partnership with the Public Ministry.

Morales, for its part, urged last week for the Constitutional Court judges not to take into account the "nonsense" presented by the CICIG. Whereas Giammattei, who swears in on January, announced earlier last week the creation of a new body financed by the United States.

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