Guatemala Investigates Claim of Bribe Paid to Its President

A pre­vi­ous inquiry was cut short when the chief anti-cor­rup­tion pros­e­cu­tor was fired, but media reports of cash pay­ments have prompt­ed anoth­er one.

President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala speak­ing at a news con­fer­ence in Guatemala City this summer.Erin Schaff/The New York Times

GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemalan pros­e­cu­tors have opened an inves­ti­ga­tion into alle­ga­tions that Russian cit­i­zens paid a bribe to the nation’s pres­i­dent, Alejandro Giammattei, a spokesman for the attor­ney general’s office said Friday.

The inquiry arose out of infor­ma­tion pub­li­cized in media reports, said the spokesman, Juan Luis Pantaleón, who not­ed that it began on Wednesday, so inves­ti­ga­tors are in the first stages of their work on the case.

The announce­ment fol­lows a New York Times report last month that described explo­sive tes­ti­mo­ny by a wit­ness who said he had per­son­al­ly deliv­ered a rolled-up car­pet filled with pack­ages of cash to the president’s home.

Guatemala’s top anti-cor­rup­tion pros­e­cu­tor had begun to look into the alle­ga­tions with a small team of inves­ti­ga­tors, deter­min­ing that the wit­ness had like­ly stum­bled upon a plot by a Russian-backed min­ing com­pa­ny to bribe the pres­i­dent for the right to oper­ate part of a key port. But just weeks after their inquiry began, the pros­e­cu­tor, Juan Francisco Sandoval, was abrupt­ly dis­missed by the attor­ney gen­er­al and fled to the United States with the evi­dence he had compiled.

In a state­ment to The Times last month, the president’s office denied that Mr. Giammattei had accept­ed bribes but con­firmed his “absolute com­mit­ment” to clear up con­fu­sion around the accu­sa­tions. The U.S. Department of Justice had already been look­ing into alle­ga­tions, a U.S. offi­cial said.

The news of the new inquiry by Guatemalan author­i­ties came on the same day that the attor­ney gen­er­al issued an arrest war­rant for Mr. Sandoval for a breach of duties and obstruc­tion of a crim­i­nal case, accord­ing to local media reports. Mr. Pantaleón con­firmed that the arrest war­rant had been issued but would not spec­i­fy the charges.

The attor­ney gen­er­al, María Consuelo Porras, pub­licly crit­i­cized Mr. Sandoval’s work ear­li­er this week, say­ing that he had nev­er informed her about the bribery inquiry and had ille­gal­ly removed inter­nal documents.

In retal­i­a­tion for Mr. Sandoval’s fir­ing, the United States announced in July that it would no longer work with the attor­ney general’s office and said offi­cials had “lost con­fi­dence” in Ms. Porras. But the Biden admin­is­tra­tion has con­tin­ued to work with Mr. Giammattei on migra­tion enforce­ment, a key area of col­lab­o­ra­tion between the two nations. In July, the admin­is­tra­tion resumed flights direct­ly expelling migrants to Guatemala.

In a state­ment released on Twitter, Mr. Sandoval accused the attor­ney gen­er­al of spear­head­ing an effort to “crim­i­nal­ize and pros­e­cute” those who con­tributed to the fight against cor­rup­tion in Guatemala.

Original source: The New York Times