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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Guatemala’s former anti-corruption prosecutor faces arrest

In this April 3, 2019 photo, Juan Francisco Sandoval, Guatemala's lead prosecutor against impunity, poses for a photo during an interview in Guatemala City. Guatemalan officials confirmed on Sept. 3, 2021 that they're trying to arrest Sandoval, the former anti-corruption prosecutor whose ouster led the U.S. to reduce cooperation with Guatemala's legal system, while under investigation for allegedly leaking confidential information.  (Moises Castillo)
By Sonny Figueroa Associated Press

GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemalan officials confirmed Friday they are trying to arrest a fired anti-corruption prosecutor whose ouster led the United States to reduce cooperation with the Central American nation’s legal system.

The arrest warrant for Juan Francisco Sandoval was confirmed by the spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, Juan Luis Pantaleón, a day after Attorney General Consuelo Porras said on Twitter that he was under investigation for allegedly leaking confidential information, among other allegations.

Later Friday, Pantaleón said the attorney general’s office was launching an investigation into alleged bribes that President Alejandro Giammattei had received from Russian businessmen, following media reports about the alleged bribes.

“There is an investigation regarding the issue on information released in media interviews and publications,” said Pantaleón, adding that he was referring to reports that a person linked to a Russian businessman had given money to Giammattei inside a carpet.

Sandoval, who said he had been investigating Giammattei for the same reason, as well as other senior officials, was fired on July 23 and fled to the United States, saying he feared for his safety.

Sandoval responded to Porras by accusing her of “leading a strategy to criminalize and persecute all the people who have contributed for years to strengthening justice and combating corruption and impunity.”

He accused her of meddling in the probe into suspected bribery of the president involving a major port. No charges have been filed in that case.

Sandoval’s ouster led the U.S. government to say in July that it had lost confidence in Guatemala’s commitment to battling corruption and it temporarily suspended cooperation with the Attorney General’s Office.

Many Guatemalans, too, staged street protests in recent weeks accusing the government of quelling attempts to root out corrupt officials.

Suspicions were fed on Thursday when the country’s top court issued a ruling that could keep some corrupt officials out of prison. The Constitutional Court overturned a law that had barred those sentenced for corruption to terms of five years or less from paying a fine instead of serving time behind bars.

It applies to convictions for crimes by public servants and those in the courts involving charges including fraud, bribery, passive embezzlement, abuse of authority and influence trafficking.

Among potential beneficiaries of the decision is one of the court’s justices, Néster Vásquez, who has been accused by the Office of the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity of manipulating the election of judges to other

Vazquez was included in a recently published U.S. list of allegedly corrupt officials in the region, along with former President Alvaro Colom, who was accused of involvement in fraud and embezzlement.

In 2019, then-President Jimmy Morales forced out a U.N.-backed anti-corruption mission that had worked with local prosecutors to root out graft and had led to the imprisonment of several senior officials, including former President Otto Perez Molina.

On Friday, the former head of that U.N. mission, Iván Velásquez, issued a statement of solidarity with Sandoval, “whom the corrupt Guatemalan prosecutor Consuelo Porras ordered captured.

“Sooner rather than later, the people will restore the state of law and the corrupt of all sorts will pay for their misdeeds.”