AG Silence Could Signal Difficult Path to Justice in Guatemala

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The slow pace of some of the country’s biggest corruption and organized crime cases coupled with silence from new Attorney General María Consuelo Porras in light of surprising new developments could be a sign of where her loyalties lie and how far these cases will go.

Porras took over as head of the Attorney General’s Office on May 17, inheriting a slew of corruption cases against the most powerful elites in the country, including one that targets President Jimmy Morales for illicit campaign financing. The United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) is assisting with the case, which has been dubbed “The [Campaign] Contributors.”

Pressure for Porras to act on the case began on May 15, two days before Porras assumed her post, when then Attorney General Thelma Aldana declared that there was “an abundance of evidence” on which to base a new preliminary hearing request against Morales.

However, eight weeks later, and despite said abundance of evidence — some of which was provided by the alleged illicit financiers of Morales’ 2015 campaign themselves — the current attorney general skirted questions about the case’s progress, reasoning that “investigation timelines cannot be based on either politics or the media” and that she had not yet received the case file from the prosecutor.

Porras has also yet to publicly comment on a recent unexpected ruling in a major corruption case called La Línea, for which former President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti are currently in prison and going through trial. At the end of June, two alternate judges ruled in favor of allowing more than 10 other suspects in La Línea case to leave prison, while they await their trials.

According to Juan Francisco Sandoval, the head of the anti-impunity unit (Fiscalía Especializada Contra la Impunidad – FECI), 14 people linked to the case remain at large, including one member of the corruption network who “maintained telephone communication with a group of lawyers to provide court rulings favoring La Línea members.”

Porras has also remained silent regarding another recent questionable court decision that resulted in the release of 10 members — including an army colonel — of an organization that laundered money for the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13). The case was the first time such a high-ranking officer had been arrested for money laundering for a gang, and illustrated the criminal group’s increasingly sophisticated activities in Guatemala.

Moreover, the attorney general has yet to respond to other moves the government has made in an effort to curtail the CICIG’s abilities to fight graft, such as the Interior Ministry’s recent decision to remove 20 police agents — nearly half the contingent — who had been assigned to the commission and who were helping to investigate corruption and organized crime cases.

Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas said that the decision of Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart, who seems to have started a crusade against the international commission, “is affecting the work of the CICIG and is a clear message that he doesn’t want to strengthen it.”

While Porras has not commented on the decision to remove the police agents from the CICIG, on June 7 she did announce on her Twitter feed that she would “request a meeting” about the issue with the minister.

InSight Crime Analysis

Any new government official needs time to establish her game plan, especially when coming from an outside institution, which Porras did, coming from the judicial branch. And it is worth noting that Porras has made some positive strides in the first few weeks of her term, such as her public announcement together with former Foreign Minister Edgar Gutiérrez, about the sexual abuse allegations against the president, as well as a series of raids that the Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG carried out against the municipal government of Guatemala City as part of another case.

However, Porras’ silence has generated criticism from various sectors and concern within the Attorney General’s Office. And the few words Porras has spoken about progress in the illicit campaign finance case against the president seem to align with what CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez has termed a “reactionary front,” which he says is seeking to wrest legitimacy from the efforts of the previous attorney general and the international commission’s work.

Part of that reactionary front, the Foundation Against Terrorism (Fundación Contra el Terrorismo – FCT), met with Porras on July 16. FCT’s core is ex military, and its president a rabid anti-CICIG militant. (See below)

Sources who spoke to InSight Crime under condition of anonymity also said that there are people on the new team in the Attorney General’s Office who are close to the Interior Ministry and groups interested in weakening the CICIG, the fight against corruption and the institutional strength of the police, which would undoubtedly affect their decision-making and capabilities.

SEE ALSO: InDepth: Elites and Organized Crime

The larger inter-institutional struggle is evident, for example, when we look at events such as the controversial arrest of the brother of former Chief of Police Nery Ramos for illegal weapons possession. Interior Minister Degenhart recently fired Ramos, who actively supported the CICIG’s efforts.

Sources inside the Attorney General’s Office told InSight Crime that Porras seems more interested in conducting an exhaustive review of what went on during the term of her predecessor than in pushing forward the landmark cases against corruption and organized crime Aldana started with the CICIG.

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