Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Guatemalan former president detained in corruption case (Feb. 14, 2018)

Former Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom was arrested yesterday, along with nine members of his cabinet, the latest in anti-graft investigations led by the public ministry and the U.N. anti-corruption commission, the CICIG. The former politicians were arrested in an early morning police raid in connection with an investigation into a new Guatemala City bus-system, reports the New York Times.

Prosecutors said that $35 million in government money had been paid to a consortium of private bus companies in charge of the system, known as the Transurbano. Almost a third of the money was spent on equipment that was never used, they said. "These 10 people were arrested for alleged crimes of embezzlement and fraud," said Matias Ponce, a CICIG spokesperson.

The government auctioned off 25-year concessions for Guatemala City bus routes and the private companies that won the contracts were later exempted from taxes, explains the Associated Press.

Speaking after a court appearance yesterday, Colom said the concession was handled correctly to the best of his knowledge.

Nómada has more details on the system, also here, reportedly coordinated by former First Lady Sandra Torres. The arrested cabinet members all signed a 2009 decree giving government funding to a private union of companies without competition or the possibility of a public administration for the system. Former vice president Rafael Espada said yesterday that he refused to sign due to doubts about the legality of publicly funding private companies.

Torres has not yet been implicated, though it is a possibility that it could happen in a subsequent phase of the investigation, reports El Periódico which also has more details on the investigation and the fraud allegations.

Former finance minister Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight, current chairman of Oxfam International, was among the detainees, who will await a hearing next week. The charges against Fuentes come as Oxfam is facing a separate scandal over allegations that the organization covered up for former employees accused of hiring prostitutes in Haiti while on an aid mission there. 

Though the arrest is unrelated to Fuentes' tenure at Oxfam, it will likely draw attention to issues of due diligence in senior appointments, reports the Guardian.

Colom is the latest in a series of Guatemalan leaders investigated for corruption. He was named as OAS envoy to Honduras recently in a bid to sort out the country's post-electoral crisis, reports the Associated Press.

News Briefs
  • A leaked document shows the Guatemalan government is maintaining its push against the CICIG, reports Plaza Pública. The Guatemalan foreign ministry reportedly argued in a U.N. meeting that CICIG head Iván Velásquez has overstepped his mandate. (See Aug. 28's post.)
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse condemned Oxfam in light of the allegations that aid workers had used prostitutes while working in the country. The BBC reports that an investigation will now be launched into foreign aid agencies operating there.
  • Left-right Mexican coalition candidate Ricardo Anaya accused the country's intelligence service of spying on him. Front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador has made similar accusations and has promised to shut down the intelligence service if he wins, reports the Guardian.
  • Peru has withdrawn an invitation for Venezuela to participate in April's Summit of the Americas meeting, due to the Venezuelan government's unilateral decision to hold presidential elections in April, reports the Associated Press. The move has the backing of the Lima Group, the informal alliance of 14 countries in the region that aims to "restore democracy" in Venezuela.
  • Earlier this week Venezuela's government accused Colombia of planning a bombing campaign or military invasion, further heightening tensions in the region, reports the Miami Herald.
  • U.S. prosecutors believe that Venezuela's former oil czar and ambassador to the United Nations, Rafael Ramírez, received bribes as part of an alleged multibillion-dollar graft scheme, reports the Associated Press.
  • Peruvian finance minister Claudia Cooper said the country's economy risks a systemic crisis within its construction sector as corruption investigations force companies to halt work, reports Reuters. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • If and how Colombia's transitional justice system manages to try war crimes will be a key test for the country's controversial peace treaty with the FARC guerrillas, according to Reuters. How the the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) prioritizes cases will prove key. Colombia’s high court is currently considering whether thousands of cases of sexual violence, including rape, which all factions committed, will be tried by the JEP or be dealt with by the criminal justice system.
  • "Policymakers in the United States and Central America have devoted many millions of dollars to law enforcement programs aimed in part at eliminating MS13, but they have generally been reluctant to address the underlying causes of the group’s growth – exclusion and the lack of opportunity – that push youths into its arms," write Stephen Dudley and Héctor Silva at the AULA blog. "Gang recruitment will continue to flourish until societies create a space in which young people find community, potentially created by NGOs, schools, churches, parents, and other members of the community." (See yesterday's post on their investigation for InSight Crime and the American University's Center for Latin American and Latino Studies into MS-13.)
  • Peruvian authorities captured a prisoner who had escaped from jail by drugging his visiting twin brother and swapping places, reports the Guardian.
  • A Brazilian Supreme Court justice asked the country's police chief to clarify comments made to the media regarding an ongoing corruption investigation into President Michel Temer, reports Reuters. Federal Police Director General Fernando Segovia said said police found no proof that a decree signed last year by Temer favored logistics firm Rodrimar S.A. Justice Luis Barroso said the comments on an ongoing investigation put pressure and threatens the autonomy of the federal police deputy in charge of the case.
  • Brazilian law student Rebeca Mendes writes in the Los Angeles Times about how she petitioned to have a legal abortion in Brazil for personal reasons -- and was denied. She eventually was able to obtain the procedure legally in Colombia, but decries "the lack of safe and legal options makes the possibility of grave injury and even death a constant reality for women seeking abortion services in Brazil."
  • Another Los Angles Times piece profiles a new LGBT shelter for youth in São Paulo.
  • A striking Samba school display in Rio de Janeiro highlighted the bitter realities of violence in the country, featuring performers as victims of stray bullets, armed favela gangs, corrupt politicians and executives, murdered police officers, and terrified schoolchildren cowering during a shootout, reports the Guardian.

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