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  • Former Vice-President Roxana Baldetti in the courtroom after she was found guilty of fraud, influence trafficking and illicit association over a government contract. Guatemala City.

    Former Vice-President Roxana Baldetti in the courtroom after she was found guilty of fraud, influence trafficking and illicit association over a government contract. Guatemala City. | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 October 2018

The magic formula was intended to clean Lake Amatitlan, but it turned out to be just water, salt and chlorine.

On Tuesday a tribunal in Guatemala sentenced former vice president Roxana Baldetti to 15 years and six months in prison for fraud over the use of “organic products” meant to clean Lake Amatitlan which turned out to be water with salt and chlorine.

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Baldetti was sentenced to eight years for illicit association, 2 years and six months for influence peddling and five for fraud by Pablo Xitumul, head of the Greater Risk Tribunal C. Prosecutors were asking for a 22-year sentence.

In 2014, the second in command under the administration of Otto Perez Molina put in operation a plan to steal about US$13 million. The idea: the government would buy a magic formula to clean the Amatitlan Lake. According to the sentence, the cleaner “doesn’t and didn’t work at all, as it turned out to be water with salt and chlorine, including other corrosive substances.”

According to Xitumul, Baldetti used her position as vice president to place convenient collaborators in budget planning and eventually hire the Israeli M. Tarcic Engineering LTD to clean the lake under a US$17.96 million contract.

“These were grotesque, expensive and unnecessary acts aimed to deceive the state of Guatemala,” he said.

During a hearing in July, Baldetti accused Xitumul of being a misogynist.

“Because you hate, despite and underestimate me for being a woman. That means you have misogyny in the blood and I won’t allow you to make me look like I am a person who wants to alter things,” she said.

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Public Ministry (MP), at that time headed by Thelma Aldana, revealed that the Israeli company would provide the state with an organic product of unspecified content to clean the lake, without presenting any previous environmental impact study or evidence of its effectiveness.

Judge Pablo Xitumul speaks during the trial of former Guatemala's Vice-President Roxana Baldetti, found guilty over a government contract, the first of several cases she faces in Guatemala City, Guatemala, October 9, 2018. Photo | Reuters

The tribunal sentenced Edvin Francisco Ramos Soberanis, former head of the Authority for the Sustainable Management of Lake Amatitlan’s Basin (AMSA), to three years in prison for failing to demand the corresponding studies on the product.

Other 12 people were also judged in the same “Magic Water” case, including Baldetti’s brother Mario and important business people.  Mario was accused of influence peddling and coordinating the fraud between the company and her sister, despite not being a public servant, receiving a 13 year sentence. The siblings are known as “the Great Chiefs.”

Hugo Rodolfo Roitman, a businessman of Argentine-Israeli origin and representative of M. Tarcic Engineering LTD, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for fraud and illicit association. He publicly defended the project after the fraud scheme was uncovered.

“There is evidence and this is working in many countries in the world,” said Roitman the day he was arrested in 2016. “ This is not fraud, but some politicians took and said the salt water thing. The people went against that.”

According to the investigations, US$2,854,900 were used to pay initial bribes to all those involved.

The final hearing was programmed for Monday evening but the sentence reading didn’t start until 4 a.m. Tuesday due the extended discussion of the judges.

This is not the only corruption case in which Baldetti is involved. Shortly after the “Magic Water” news broke out, the MP and the CICIG accused her of collaborating with president Perez Molina in a customs fraud scheme known as ‘La Linea,’ a sentence which is still pending. She’s also waiting final resolutions for the TCQ, the Cooperation and Coopting, and the RIC cases.

She is also facing an extradition request to the U.S. on drug trafficking charges, as she confessed she was protected by the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel during the 2011 campaign, but she has to serve her national sentences first.

Baldetti, Perez Molina, and high circles of the Patriotic Party started several corruption schemes to benefit them personally when they took over the government in 2012. The CICIG and Aldana’s MP played a key role in revealing the cases, which ended up with their eventual resignation.

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