United Nations expresses ‘concern’ about Guatemala investigations | Corruption News

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The United Nations has issued a statement expressing “concern” after Guatemala announced it would investigate a former anti-corruption investigator assigned to the country.

Iván Velásquez, a Colombian who led the UN’s anti-corruption efforts in Guatemala from 2013 to 2019, is under investigation for “illegal, irregular and abusive activities”, according to prosecutors in Guatemala.

But critics have warned that the probe is the latest attempt by the Guatemalan government to backtrack on anti-corruption efforts.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, “expresses his concern about the numerous reports suggesting that criminal prosecution is being used against those who tried to shed light on corruption issues and worked to strengthen the justice system in Guatemala”, said a spokesperson on Wednesday.

The UN also confirmed that “justice operators and officials” from its former anti-corruption campaign continue to “enjoy privileges and immunities” even after their posts end.

The campaign began in 2006 when the UN and Guatemala agreed to launch the International Commission Against Freedom in Guatemala (CICIG). The commission’s goal was to “bring out criminal groups believed to have infiltrated state institutions” after Guatemala’s decades-long civil war.

In 2007, at the time the commission was ratified, Guatemala was embroiled in a police scandal, with reports of extrajudicial killings, and there were fears that corruption could erode the country’s democratic gains.

Velásquez, a Colombian who was previously an auxiliary judge of his country’s Supreme Court, was appointed head of CICIG on August 31, 2013.

Under his leadership, the commission continued investigations of some of the highest authorities in Guatemala, including the administration of President Otto Perez Molina at the time.

Molina and his vice president eventually resigned amid allegations that they participated in a corruption scheme known as “La Linea”, which allegedly used customs officials to solicit bribes in exchange for avoiding import charges.

Molina was sentenced to 16 years last month on charges of fraud and conspiracy. He has denied any wrongdoing.

It is estimated that the UN Commission’s investigations have led to the sentencing of more than 400 people, as well as the disruption of at least 60 criminal networks.

But the work of the CICIG came to a sudden halt in 2019, when Guatemala announced that it would withdraw from the 2006 agreement with the UN. The government had previously tried to declare Velásquez “persona non grata” and deny him entry into the country.

This move raised fears that 12 years worth of government reform would be reversed. “The old actors who have manipulated the legal system have power and will try to undermine the system again,” a Guatemalan constitutional lawyer told Al Jazeera at the time. support of the movement that the CICIG had become a tool for political persecution.

In the years since, the Guatemalan government has faced criticism that it has retaliated against former members of the CICIG, as well as other anti-corruption figures. The Associated Press estimates that around 30 judges, magistrates and prosecutors have been expelled from Guatemala under the current administration.

One of the most prominent cases was the case of Juan Francisco Sandoval. Formerly head of the Guatemalan Anti-Liberty Special Prosecutor’s Office, he was sacked and fled the country in 2021.

And just last February, another prominent anti-corruption prosecutor in Guatemala, Virginia Laparra, was arrested. Accused of abuse of authority, she was sentenced to four years in December.

“Targeted prosecution of justice actors and media undermines Guatemalan rule of law, democracy and prosperity,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in response to Laparra’s conviction.

Guatemala is now investigating Velásquez, the former head of CICIG, in connection with a cooperation agreement with the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, a company previously involved in an international corruption scandal.

The case is being led by Guatemalan prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche Cacul, who the US State Department has previously accused of “disturbing high-profile corruption cases against government officials and ‘ raising claims that seem spurious “. He replaced exiled Sandoval as head of the Guatemalan Anti-Liberty Special Prosecutor’s Office.

The investigation has fueled tensions between Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and his Colombian counterpart Gustavo Petro, who appointed Velásquez as defense minister.

Speaking from the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Petro said he would not accept an arrest warrant for the defense minister.

Giammattei, meanwhile, told the Spanish news agency EFE that Velásquez is facing an investigation and not a criminal charge at this time.

“It would be good if someone would clarify the difference to Mr. Petro,” said Giammattei.The two presidents have summoned their ambassadors to each other’s country to discuss the diplomatic incident.

Velásquez, meanwhile, took to Twitter on Tuesday to thank Petro for his support.

“I am very grateful to the president [Gustavo Petro] to show loyalty and trust,” wrote Velásquez.

Referring to corruption as a monster, Velásquez emphasized that he and Petro shared a common goal: “We know the monster, we have seen it up close and, from different vantage points, we have fight We know how he changes and the methods he uses, but he doesn’t scare us.”

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