Joining the former president and vice president of Guatemala in police custody is former head of Congress Pedro Muadi, accused of stealing state money in the latest example of ongoing efforts to tackle official corruption.
Muadi turned himself in to authorities this week after he was charged with embezzling up to $81,000 in state funds, reported Prensa Libre. According to investigations by the Attorney General’s Office and United Nations-backed anti-impunity body the CICIG, the crimes took place between 2013 and 2014 — while Muadi was President of Congress.
The money was funnelled into accounts belonging to Muadi by over-reporting the salaries of 15 contracted security guards, according to Prensa Libre. The guards agreed to sign contracts in which Congress paid them monthly salaries of approximately $1,037. In reality, Muadi paid the guards a quarter of these funds, and had a collaborator transfer the rest into Muadi’s personal accounts.
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Muadi’s detention forms part of a wider investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG into the creation of non-existent jobs in Congress. According to the CICIG, there may be up to 25 of these “phantom” congressional jobs. ElPeriodico reported that 32 people have been arrested in the investigation so far, including security guards and congressional staff.
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Muadi’s arrest comes as another indication that Guatemalan authorities are taking their efforts to crack down on corruption seriously, even when it involves high-level officials — including Muadi — who previously enjoyed impunity from prosecution.
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Members of Congress aren’t the only ones to have investigators breathing down their necks — last week saw the arrest of a local mayor for stealing up to $1 million in municipal funds. Another mayor was arrested October 30 on corruption charges, accused of embezzling over $500,000.
Muadi’s actions are indicative of what was previously a widespread belief that Guatemala’s political elites were by and large insusceptible to prosecution. This widespread misuse of public money, via manipulation of contracts, is part of why Guatemala can be said to function practically like a mafia state. The 2015 Latin American Legislative Transparency Index reflects this, stating that transparency levels in Guatemala’s Congress are at a mere 46 percent.
With the CICIG helping reverse this trend of widspread impunity, it is perhaps no surprise that Guatemala’s neighbor El Salvador has refused to back the creation of a similar body. Possibly in retaliation to this deeply engrained corruption in Guatemalan politics, last weekend the country elected right-wing comedian Jimmy Morales, who has no prior government experience, to be their new president.