Guatemalan officials confirmed this week 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 on Monday, Pantaleón said the attorney general’s office was launching an investigation into alleged bribes that President Alejandro Giammattei had received from Russian businessmen inside a carpet, following media reports about the alleged bribes.
“There is an investigation regarding the issue on information released in media interviews and publications,” said Pantaleón.
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 Tuesday when the country’s top court issued a ruling that could keep some corrupt officials out of prison.
The 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.
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.
“Sooner rather than later, the people will restore the state of law and the corrupt of all sorts will pay for their misdeeds.”
Government and Venezuelan opposition representatives on Monday continued a dialogue aimed at finding a common path out of their country’s political standoff.
The groups met in Mexico City two weeks after signing a memorandum of understanding that marked the start of the negotiations.
The delegates of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition, led by Juan Guaidó, were expected to debate issues such as conditions for elections and the lifting of foreign economic sanctions imposed on the government.
Last month’s release from prison of opposition leader Freddy Guevara, as well as the opposition coalition’s announcement this week that it would participate in upcoming regional elections, were seen by both sides as the first results of the process, which is expected to last at least six months.
Maduro indicated this week that his delegation will demand the lifting of the economic sanctions imposed on his government more than three years ago by the U.S. and other countries and the freeing of some of Venezuela’s assets abroad.
He said his delegates will present a plan containing everything needed for Venezuela’s economic recovery, as well as restoring his government’s access to gold reserves held at the Bank of England and ending sanctions against the state oil company.
But the decision to end economic sanctions is in the hands of foreign governments — notably the United States — not those at the table in Mexico City.
U.S. Department of State spokesman Ned Price last month said that Maduro “can create a path toward sanctions relief by allowing Venezuelans to participate in free and fair presidential, parliamentary and local elections that should have taken place long ago.”
The U.S. and other countries withdrew recognition of Maduro after accusing him of rigging his most recent reelection as president.
In his place, they recognized Guaidó, who was head of the then-opposition-dominated congress.
Millions of Venezuelans live in poverty, facing low wages, high food prices and the world’s worst inflation rate. The food assistance agency of the United Nations has estimated that one of every three Venezuelans is struggling to consume enough daily calories.