An important witness in Guatemala’s expansive anti-corruption efforts appears to have given testimony leading to new advances in a number of cases, a reminder of the crucial role collaborating witnesses can play in organized crime investigations.
Juan Carlos Monzón, the former private secretary of Guatemala’s jailed ex-vice president, was interviewed by prosecutors for 14 hours on August 25, and he revealed new details about alleged corruption during his former boss’s time in office, Prensa Libre reported.
Monzón turned himself in to authorities in October 2015, and he subsequently provided evidence that he engaged in a number of corruption schemes led by former Vice President Roxana Baldetti and former President Otto Pérez Molina.
Now, Monzón appears to have provided authorities with evidence implicating a Supreme Court judge and the former head of the country’s property registry in separate incidents of graft.
On September 1, less than a week after Monzón’s marathon meeting with prosecutors, special anti-corruption prosecutors charged Supreme Court Judge Douglas René Charchal with illicit association and influence trafficking for his alleged participation in a corruption plot involving a port development contract.
The charges against the judge are linked to accusations that Baldetti and Pérez Molina solicited and received millions of dollars in bribes from a Spanish company in exchange for awarding a lucrative port development contract to the firm. Charchal stands accused of using his position to help facilitate the awarding of the contract in exchange for an armored luxury vehicle.
Supreme Court judges in Guatemala are typically protected from prosecution for such crimes, but the congress revoked Charchal’s immunity in May at the request of the Attorney General’s Office.
Also on September 1, authorities announced the arrests of nearly two dozen suspects in a separate corruption case, including the former head of the General Property Registry (Registro General de la Propiedad – RGP), Annabella de León.
Prosecutors have accused de León of approving at least 16 “ghost positions” at the RGP, which paid out nearly $400,000 in salaries to “employees” who did not perform any work for the agency.
De León’s agency also allegedly paid nearly $19,000 for a breakfast for 564 people at a restaurant called Fulanos y Menganos, owned by Central American Parliament Representative Ottmar Sánchez. Prosecutors say the agency deliberately overpaid for the services rendered.
InSight Crime Analysis
Although authorities have not confirmed that Monzón’s testimony led to the recent indictment of Charchal and arrest of de León and other suspects, the timing of these actions — and the evidence used to justify them — strongly suggests a link. And whether or not this is the case, Monzón’s past cooperation with anti-corruption authorities acts as a reminder that collaborating witnesses can serve as important sources of information for authorities pursuing organized crime investigations.
At the same time, collaborating witnesses are often offered legal benefits in exchange for implicating other suspects. This can feed perceptions that their testimony is unreliable or that these witnesses are receiving inadequate punishment for their illegal activities. It remains to be seen what benefits, if any, Monzón will receive in exchange for his cooperation, but his legal team has previously said they will ask for him to receive the lightest possible sentence even though he was at the center of former administration’s corrupt activities.
If Monzón does receive leniency in exchange for his testimony, it is likely to generate criticism from those he implicates and their allies. On the other hand, some observers have already suggested that Monzón should be awarded for his performance — with a Grammy.