Guatemala’s former president and vice president — already detained for involvement in another corruption scandal — have been accused of running a scheme in which they received million-dollar payoffs from a Spanish company.
While in office, ex-president Otto Pérez Molina and ex-vice president Roxana Baldetti created a criminal structure for laundering bribe money received from container port construction company Grup TCB, according to Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office, known as the Public Ministry.
The investigation was carried out in collaboration with the country’s UN-backed anti-impunity commission, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG).
According to investigators, Pérez Molina and Baldetti appointed several collaborators to top positions within a state company that manages Guatemala’s Quetzal Port, the largest port on Guatemala’s Pacific coast. In 2012, these collaborators contacted Spanish company Grup TCB to negotiate a 25-year contract worth $255 million for building and managing a new terminal in Quetzal Port. But in order to secure the contract, Grup TCB had to pay over $25 million in bribes.
At one point, the Spanish company suggested paying the bribe partly in company stock. However, according to the CICIG, Pérez Molina and Baldetti were insistent on receiving cash payments that had to be paid out before the end of Pérez Molina’s term in October 2015, elPeriódico reported.
Baldetti’s personal secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, played the role of messenger between the Spanish company and Guatemalan officials, the Public Ministry said. He was also instrumental in paying out bribes of at least five million Quetzales (approximately $646,000 at current exchange rates) to Quetzal Port union leaders, in exchange for their collaboration. Three union leaders have been detained in connection to the investigation.
Grup TCB eventually made two payments, one in late 2013 and another in early 2014, for a total of just over $12 million. Pérez Molina and Baldetti each received about $4.2 million of this cash, the Public Ministry said.
The third payment, due in early 2015, was never completed because by then the Public Ministry and the CICIG had unveiled their investigation into a customs bribery scheme that eventually forced both the president and vice president to resign.
The Public Ministry issued arrest orders for nine people in connection to the scheme, and named a total of 18 collaborators, including five who are based outside of Guatemala.
InSight Crime Analysis
This case is illustrative of how Guatemala’s government was long run like a mafia state, with lucrative contracts used as bargaining chips for increasing the wealth of elites. This type of wheeling-and-dealing was not limited to Guatemala’s executive branch, but has also been seen with the national social security agency and local politics.
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With the unveiling of this latest investigation, the CICIG and the Public Ministry continue their campaign to expose the depths of corruption in Guatemala. But collecting the evidence needed to build these cases is only the first step — it remains to be seen how the CICIG’s many ongoing probes will play out in court.
Both Baldetti and Pérez Molina are currently being held in preventative detention in Guatemala, charged with running a customs bribery ring known as La Linea. The Grup TCB investigation will only add to their legal woes, alongside the prospect that more of their former accomplices will decide to collaborate with prosecutors. Such was the case with Baldetti’s ex-secretary, who played a key role in both the Grup TCB and La Linea schemes.