Guatemala Targets Health Care Corruption Ring

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Authorities in Guatemala arrested 11 people accused of running a corruption ring within the country’s social security agency, as prosecutors continue their campaign to break up a criminal network that allegedly stole millions of dollars and caused sick patients to die as a result of faulty medical care. 

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Attorney General’s Office announced the arrests on October 27. At the heart of the scandal is Guatemala’s social security agency, known by its Spanish acronym as the IGSS. According to the CICIG and the Attorney General, pharmaceutical companies would negotiate lucrative contracts with their IGSS contacts, such as getting the IGSS to buy a certain type of antibiotic in bulk. In return for issuing the multi-million dollar contracts, IGSS officials allegedly received financial kickbacks. 

During the press conference, Attorney General Thelma Aldana said the investigation still hasn’t established how much money the IGSS embezzled this way. “What we do know is this was a daily event between November 2014 to April 2015,” she said, according to ElPeriodico

One of the main leaders of the corruption ring is allegedly Gustavo Alejos, the ex-secretary of former President Alvaro Colom. Alejos is linked to three pharmaceutical companies that supplied drugs to the IGSS. He remains at large, although 11 other suspects — including pharmaceutical providers, IGSS officials, and hospital directors — are in custody, charged with illicit association, illicit enrichment, and influence peddling. 

Prosecutors played dozens of phone recordings of conversations between the suspects in court on October 28, as Prensa Libre reported. In one recording, a pharmaceutical company director told an IGSS official, “Who doesn’t want to win, if health is a business?”

Other phone recordings made reference to alias “JD,” who, according to the Attorney General’s Office, could be a reference to Juan de Dios Rodriguez, the former head of the IGSS. Rodriguez was arrested in May 2015, charged with approving a lucrative contract with a pharmaceutical company and pocketing a commission. The pharmaceutical company provided the IGSS with generic drugs that failed to adequately treat kidney failure, resulting in the deaths of at least 11 people. 

InSight Crime Analysis

This latest investigation comes as additional proof that the CICIG — which was established in Guatemala with backing from the United Nations in 2006 — has made major advances in training prosecutors in successfully building cases. Many of the CICIG’s investigations this year — including the one that brought down President Otto Perez Molina — has relied on more technical evidence like phone recordings, rather than depending on witness testimony. 

SEE ALSO:  Guatemala News and Profiles

Still, as with the ongoing case against Perez Molina and his former vice president, it remains to be seen whether these investigations will actually result in convictions that the courts do not later overturn.  

Moving forward, the CICIG and the Attorney General’s Office would do well to continue prioritizing probes into malfeasance within the IGSS. With a mutli-billion dollar budget, this is Guatemala’s biggest government agency, and as InSight Crime has reported, it is known for awarding lucrative contracts as a way to manipulate political power. There have been few previous investigations into IGSS corruption, arguably in part due to the agency’s influence over who gets appointed to the country’s courts.

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