Guatemala’s CICIG Says More Big Corruption Cases to Come

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The commissioner of Guatemala’s internationally backed anti-impunity body said that authorities expect to uncover government corruption schemes on the same scale as the ones that sent shock waves throughout the Central American nation last year. 

Iván Velásquez, the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), made the comments at a November 24 event marking the release of the organization’s ninth official report.

“We believe that in 2017 we will present investigations as serious and profound as the Cooptation of the State,” elPeriódico quoted Velásquez as saying. 

Velásquez was referring to charges brought by CICIG and the Attorney General’s Office in June against former President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti.

The ex-leaders were accused of setting up a network of front companies to accept millions of dollars worth of illicit campaign contributions from businesses and individuals, which they paid back by awarding the donors state contracts and other favors once in power.

Pérez Molina and Baldetti had previously been forced to resign and were later jailed on charges related to a separate scheme known as “La Línea,” or “The Line,” which allegedly involved them taking a cut of bribes paid by traders to avoid import taxes. The pair have also been linked to other alleged corruption scandals uncovered with CICIG’s help.

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While Velásquez hailed CICIG’s work thus far and made the bold promise that future investigations would be as impactful as those involving a former president, he also recognized the ongoing challenges to the commission’s work.

“There always exists the threat of the return of impunity,” he said. “The processes underway that are keeping well-known figures in prison could be manipulated and diverted to grant them freedom and the return of goods over time.”

One obstacle is the continuing influence wielded by what Velásquez and others have referred to as “hidden powers.” Velásquez has previously identified what he called “consolidated structures” that can “reach relationships and understandings with each government” in order to continue siphoning public funds for illicit private enrichment through corruption schemes.

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The CICIG commissioner said that previous investigations have provided insight as to how these structures function and how to dismantle them, but he also noted that judicial reforms will be necessary in order to improve the effectiveness of such efforts.

“We cannot pretend that different results would be obtained using the same rules and doing things in the same way,” he said.

In addition to their continued ability to operate in a clandestine manner, these structures may also be able to interfere with ongoing investigations and prosecutions by means of threats and intimidation. For instance, shortly after the Cooptation of the State case became public, Attorney General Thelma Aldana received death threats.

For these reasons, both Velásquez and Aldana asked Guatemalan officials and citizens for their continued support as new investigations move forward.

Speaking to judicial officials, Velásquez said, “We want to call on you to contribute actively in the process of the moral restoration of the republic, denouncing those who pressure or even subtly intimidate. No more fears! No more silence! A new citizenry supports you.”

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