On Monday 16 January, the head of Guatemala's Special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity Rafael Curruchiche announced actions against those involved in investigations of Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. A judge accepted warrants issued by the office for the arrests of: former prosecutor Thelma Aldana; former secretary of the Public Ministry Mayra Véliz; lawyer Juan Pablo Carrasco from the Guatemalan-American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham); and former investigator at the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) David Gaitán, who is also a member of Transparency International Guatemala. Curruchiche also announced they would take legal actions against Iván Velázquez, the current Minister of Defence in Colombia, who led the CICIG for many years.
This announcement comes just after the release of former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizón last week, who had been in jail in Guatemala for alleged money laundering for Odebrecht and was convicted in the United States, and suspicions Alejandro Sinibald, the former Minister of Communications, Infrastructure and Housing, who is also imprisoned for connections to Odebrecht bribery, may be released soon.
Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International, said:
“Guatemala was once a world leader in the fight against corruption – with independent, capable and honest prosecutors that were able to uncover and prosecute grand corruption. Jailing public officials who had taken bribes from Odebrecht was a watershed moment for the country. Now, the decision to not only release those who participated in scheme, but also to prosecute those who helped uncover corruption is a devastating turn."
Transparency International demands Guatemala drop charges against these anti-corruption defenders immediately. Especially because the government signed onto the international legal agreement providing immunity for all members of the CICIG, the charges against David Gaitán must be revoked. We call on the UN to hold the government accountable to its commitments to protect those fighting against corruption at the CICIG.
To prevent future violations, Transparency International urges the international community to take key actions to protect anti-corruption efforts. Countries that use legal and financial sanctions against perpetrators of human rights violations and corruption must coordinate more closely to be more effective. Additionally, the European Union specifically must enforce the democratic and human rights clauses in its association agreement with Central America.