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News > Guatemala

Guatemala: CICIG to Lift Politicians' Immunity in Graft Case

  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales holds a news conference to announce the ending of CICIG in Guatemala City, Guatemala, January 7, 2019.

    Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales holds a news conference to announce the ending of CICIG in Guatemala City, Guatemala, January 7, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 7 May 2019

CICIG has issued pre-trial requests against the ruling party's presidential candidate ahead of June elections, as well as several other political leaders.

The Guatemalan Prosecutor's Office (MP) filed an application to lift the legislative immunity of a cabinet member and several congress members for alleged involvement in a corruption network that involved vote buying.

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The Public Prosecutor's Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) presented Monday pre-trial requests against the ruling National Convergence Front (FCN) party's presidential candidate for June elections and current legislator, Estuardo Galdamez, as well as the Minister of Economy Acisclo Valladares, and six other congress members.

According to the investigation, former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who faces several cases of corruption herself, directed congressional votes between 2012 and 2015 at her whim, undermining the separation of powers and compromising the democracy of the Central American country.

Throughout this case, the authorities accuse the current economy minister, legislator and presidential candidate Galdamez, along with six other parliamentarians—Juan Jose Porras, Haroldo Quej, Boris Spain, Gustavo Arnoldo Medrano, Mirma Figueroa de Coro, and Marco Antonio Orozco—of conspiracy, active and passive bribery, violation of the constitution and money laundering. Some of the politicians acquired goods, such as vehicles, without justifying the origin of the money in exchange for certain votes.

A joint MP-CICIG statement posted on MP's twitter counter account Monday says that "the Guatemalan State operated a structure of officials who altered the democratic order and the republican system by subordinating the legislative functions at the direction of the Executive Power in exchange for a promise of payment or a gift."

The MP and CICIG explain that they have not cited or captured other persons possibly involved in the case because there is a court order stating that the proceedings take place within the Tenth Criminal Court under the jurisdiction of Judge Victor Manuel Cruz, the same magisrate who ordered the capture of former attorney general and presidential hopeful, Thelma Aldana.

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The investigation began with a tip off about the possible purchase of votes in the legislature in exchange for their approval of certain laws while Baldetti's Patriotic Party (PP) was in power. For example, the legislators made possible the enactment of the Law of Mobile Telecommunications Control and Strengthening Infrastructure for Data Transmission in 2014 in an arrangement negotiated between the vice president and executives at Tigo Guatemala, a monopolizing cellular phone company within the country.

The former vice president gave bi-monthly payments of 50,000 quetzales (about US$6,500) per lawmaker, money that was delivered in cash to Baldetti's staff from top Tigo executives.

The vice presidency dolled out some 62 bribes in 2012, 61 in 2013, 55 in 2014, and 44 in 2015 that totalled about 57 million quetzales (approximately US$7.4 million) in order for the legislators to pass laws, appoint Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges, appoint auditors, and select congressional committees that favored the PP during those four years.

Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro and Guatemala's current president, Jimmy Morales, have tried to interfere with CICIG investigations over the past two years.

In April, Ivan Velasquez, director of Guatemala’s UN-backed CICIG said he was “surprised and concerned” at Almagro’s request via Twitter to the commission to “not influence” Guatemala’s June presidential elections. Almagro had tweeted calling for “transparent” Guatemalan elections “without influences or external factors, including from CICIG.”

At the time Velasquez wrote an open letter to Almagro saying that illicit electoral financing was “of a highly complex and serious" nature adding that "the commission has addressed the issue comprehensively through the presentation of a thematic report, legal reform recommendations, and institutional strengthening activities … to investigate criminal cases."

In January, Morales notified the United Nations it was terminating CICIG, the U.N.-backed anti-graft commission months ahead of schedule, accusing the body of abuses of power, and prompting a swift rebuke from the U.N. secretary-general and the public.

Velasquez and several members of CICIG were temporarily banned from the country by President Morales in January as the commission got closer to investigating the head of state strongly linked to corruption allegations.

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