Phone Calls Illustrate Power of Guatemalan Ex-Army Officer

SHARETweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+

As the trial begins of a Guatemalan ex-military officer accused of running a bribery ring from prison, where he is serving a sentence for a high-profile murder, phone recordings presented as evidence provide an inside look at how the scheme played out.

Guatemala’s Public Ministry is using more than 7,500 recordings as evidence in the case against former Captain Byron Lima Oliva, who allegedly directed an operation from Pavoncito prison — south of Guatemala City — in which prisoners paid him to have them transferred to other penitentiaries, reported Prensa Libre. National prison service director Edgar Camargo is among those accused of collaborating with Lima.

Some of these recordings were played on September 9 during the first hearing for Lima and other suspected members of the network. In a recording from July, two men identified by Prensa Libre as Lima and his associate — ex-convict Carlos Cermeño Espina — apparently discuss the transfer of Juan Fernando de Leon Amezquita, a prisoner convicted of fraud (listen below).

Cermeño: “Hello, how are we ‘Mi Bravo’? A pleasure to greet you.”

Lima: “Do you think we can move someone from sector 13 to here [Pavoncito]?”

Cermeño: “Certainly Mi Bravo, the tango [code for transfer] is all set, but you just need to pass by the BBM and coordinate with him [another assistant]. When do you want it for?”

In another recording, the two are heard discussing payments for the transfer, reported elPeriodico.

“For you to move him I’ll give $5,000 [to Camargo, who is referred to as the ‘Lord of the Skies’] and $2,000 to you,” said Lima. 

A later recording details de Leon Amezquita happily settling into his new home in Pavoncito, reported Siglo 21

Conversations were also recorded in which Camargo and Cermeño apparently discussed both that transfer and the transfer of another prisoner (listen below).

InSight Crime Analysis

The recordings highlight the respect Lima was shown by other members of the network. This is likely thanks to his military background, a key factor in allowing Lima to construct such a major scheme while serving time in prison.

They also indicate the close relationship the transfer ring had with the prison director, and therefore the pivotal role official corruption played in the network. 

Lima is among Guatemala’s most notorious criminals, making these accusations especially noteworthy. He was convicted in 2001 of the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, a prominent human rights activist who had released a damning report days before his death about atrocities committed by the army. Lima is now being tried for money laundering and organized crime, and a total of 12 suspects are accused of participating in his bribery network.

SHARETweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+