Arrests of Police Officials Latest Scandal to Hit Guatemala

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Adding to an already long list of corruption scandals in Guatemala, authorities have dismantled an alleged corruption network within the Guatemalan national police force — an agency that was supposed to be improving its effectiveness and capacity to combat crime and insecurity.

A joint press conference held on June 24 by officials from Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) announced that 12 officials — the majority from the National Police (which is known by its Spanish acronym, PNC) — were arrested in over 30 coordinated raids.

Among those arrested was Hector Florentino Rodriguez Heredia, the former director of the PNC’s support and logistics branch (SGAL) and the alleged leader of the ring.

Guatemala Attorney General Thelma Aldana speaking at the press conference.

The officials are accused of stealing around $7 million from the PNC’s budget between 2012 and 2014. The money was intended for maintenance costs of equipment, the purchase of supplies, and renovations of police stations (See PowerPoint presentation detailing the group’s activities).

The corruption network allegedly issued contracts for the maintenance and repair work to several companies that existed only on paper. Police officers conducted the actual work, and PNC officials pocketed the money issued to pay for these upgrades. They also used a shell company in Panama named Proyectos Soul West, S.A. to launder the dirty money.

CICIG Commissioner Ivan Velasquez speaking at the press conference.

Charges being leveled against those arrested include: fraud, illicit association, illicit enrichment, extortion, money laundering, and embezzlement.

InSight Crime Analysis

This is Guatemala’s third major corruption scandal to break in recent months. It follows revelations of fraud rings in the country’s customs agency (SAT) — which led to the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti in May — and Social Security Institute (IGSS). The scandals have put the administration of President Otto Perez Molina under increasing pressure and public criticism. Some critics have called for his resignation. 

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

This most recent scandal in the PNC involves an institution that is no stranger to allegations of corruption and illegal behavior. Guatemalan police officers have been arrested for running kidnapping rings and stealing drugs.  

In addition, weapons and uniform purchases have come under scrutiny in the past, as Guatemala’s Interior Ministry (which oversees the PNC) makes many purchases through no-bid contracts — many of which are awarded to companies owned by former military officers.

The ministry — under its former head Mauricio Lopez Bonilla — tried to improve the poor performance of the Guatemalan police, investing in the force and conducting purges to remove corrupt officers.  

However, this latest scandal puts Lopez Bonilla under the microscope as it happened under his watch. Lopez Bonilla, who resigned in May amidst the other corruption scandals, has said he does not fear that the investigation will eventually include him.

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