Arrest of Guatemala First Family Not Yet a Return of Mafia State

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The brother and son of Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales, elected in 2015 on an anti-graft platform, were arrested for their alleged involvement in corruption, but the case is still a far cry from the one that took down the previous head of state. 

Prosecutors allege Morales’ brother, Samuel Everardo Morales Cabrera, and his son, José Manuel Morales Marroquin, set up a scheme to benefit Mario Estuardo Orellana López, the father of José Manuel’s then-girlfriend, reported El Periódico.

They say the president’s brother and son paid Orellana a total of 200,000 quetzales (approximately $26,000) of government money, which Orellana was to use to organize several events. Among these events was a breakfast for 564 people, the catering services for a three-day long workshop of Guatemala’s National Property Registry (Registro General de la Propiedad – RGP), and the delivery of Christmas hampers to RGP employees.

None of these events and services, however, were ever provided. Prosecutors said that neither Samuel Morales nor José Manuel Morales made any money from the scheme, but were nonetheless responsible for what they called “illicit favors” to Orellana. It’s not clear what the quid pro quo was.

Guatemala’s Attorney General Thelma Aldana asked for the two to be detained pending a trial for fraud against the two of them, and money laundering against Samuel Morales. The charge of money laundering, however, has already been dropped.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the arrest of President Morales’ brother and son is the type of case that could impact his presidency and represents an important step in the development of an independent judicial system in Guatemala, it is not even comparable to the one that led to the fall of former President Otto Pérez Molina and his administration in 2015.

To begin with, the current scandal appears to be a one-off, as opposed to the larger and more sophisticated customs corruption network that Pérez Molina had allegedly established. Dubbed “La Linea,” the case was part of a multi-million dollar kickback scheme led by current and former military networks dating back at least to the 1990s.  

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What’s more, Morales and his family do not have longtime ties to the political or bureaucratic elites who have been pillaging the Guatemalan government for decades. In contrast, Pérez Molina still wields considerable power, even from jail

To be sure, the scandal in which President Morales’s family is now involved has huge ramifications and might jeopardize the current administration, but it does not seem to be a case that is illustrative of the mafia state, which Guatemala saw during the Pérez Molina administration.

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