Thursday, February 17, 2022

Guatemala detains more anti-corruption prosecutors (Feb. 17, 2022)

Guatemalan authorities arrested two assistant prosecutors from the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI), yesterday, the latest in a string of detentions of anti-corruption officials. Both assistant prosecutors were involved in uncovering a corruption plot between lawyers, politicians and businessmen to elect judges, reports Reuters. Guatemalan authorities say arrest warrants are pending against two other assistant prosecutors involved in that case.

The case against yesterday's detainees will be presided over by Judge Geisler Smaille Pérez Domínguez, who has been implicated in the "Parallel Commissions 2020" case that the assistant prosecutors were investigating, reports the Associated Press.

The crackdown follows an explosive report this week by investigative media outlet El Faro: A former confidant of President Alejandro Giammattei accused him in sworn testimony of negotiating the delivery of $2.6 million in bribes from construction companies to finance his campaign in 2019. In exchange, according to the witness, Giammattei promised to keep then-Minister of Communications, Infrastructure, and Housing José Luis Benito in his post for a year in order to allow him to continue operating a multimillion-dollar corruption scheme of infrastructure projects.

The testimony is part of a case presided over by Judge Erika Aifán, one of the most widely-recognized anti-corruption and anti-drug trafficking judges in Guatemala. Last month Attorney General Consuelo Porras asked the Supreme Court of Justice to remove the immunity from prosecution of Aifán. 

Yesterday's arrests mark the second time in a week that people working on high-level anti-corruption cases have been arrested in Guatemala. The U.S. State Department voiced concern over the "Guatemalan Public Ministry’s unacceptable mistreatment and persistent abuse of current and former independent prosecutors.  Under the leadership of Attorney General Consuelo Porras, the Public Ministry used searches and arrests based on sealed indictments and selectively leaked case information with the apparent intent to single out and punish Guatemalans who are combating impunity and promoting transparency and accountability."

U.S. State Department previously included Porras on the Engel List for “a pattern of obstruction of investigations into corruption,” reports El Faro.


Saab cooperated with DEA

Alex Saab, a businessman linked to high-level corruption in Venezuela's government, was secretly signed up by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a source in 2018. As part of his multi-year cooperation with U.S. authorities, he shared information about bribes he paid to top officials in President Nicolás Maduro’s government. Saab also forfeited millions of dollars in illegal proceeds he admitted to earning from corrupt state contracts, according to revelations made public yesterday, following a heated closed door hearing in a U.S. federal court, reports the Associated Press.

Saab started communicating with DEA and FBI agents in Colombia about his planned cooperation in 2016. With his lawyers he continued those discussions with federal agents and prosecutors through June 2018, when he signed a “cooperating source agreement” with the DEA, the court document filed by prosecutors says. (Miami Herald)

For nearly a year, Saab reported paying bribes to Venezuelan officials to secure illicit food, housing and other contracts totaling hundreds of millions of dollars with the government. Saab communicated with DEA special agents “via telephone, text and voice messaging,” the document says, and he “engaged in proactive cooperation,” meaning he recorded conversations with co-conspirators targeted in the U.S. investigation.

Saab also made four wire transfers totaling more than $12 million of his Venezuelan contract profits to a U.S. bank account controlled by the DEA as part of his cooperation with the agency, the document says.

Saab was deactivated as a source after he missed a May 2019 deadline to surrender to or face criminal charges, as had been previously agreed during meetings in which he was represented by U.S. and Colombian attorneys. Two months later, he was sanctioned by the Trump administration and indicted in Miami federal court on charges of siphoning millions from Venezuelan state contracts.

U.S. prosecutors accuse Saab, a Colombia-born businessman and dealmaker for Maduro’s government, of siphoning around $350 million out of Venezuela via the United States as part of a bribery scheme linked to the state-controlled exchange rate, reports Reuters.

Saab's lawyer in the Miami court argued the businessman's family in Venezuela could be jailed or physically harmed by Maduro’s government if his interactions with U.S. law enforcement became known. U.S. prosecutors had sought to keep meetings with U.S. law enforcement a secret, out of concern for Saab’s safety and that of his family, some of whom are still in Venezuela. But they downplayed such dangers yesterday, saying Saab’s legal team hadn’t taken them up on an offer to assist his family in leaving Venezuela.

A New York based lawyer for Saab said the businessman only met with U.S. law enforcement officials to explain that his companies had done nothing wrong, and that Venezuela was fully aware of his engagement with those officials. But the news could be an embarrassment to Maduro’s government, which has championed Saab as a special envoy who helped Venezuela’s government conduct business deals under the radar of U.S. sanctions, reports the Guardian. Maduro’s allies have characterized Washington’s pursuit of Saab as part of an “economic war” on Venezuela being waged by the U.S. government.

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • Venezuela's political crisis has become a source of geopolitical discord. "The Venezuelan parties’ recent readiness to negotiate could allow for a more constructive role from foreign powers, according to a new Crisis Group report. "The Venezuelan parties’ recent readiness to negotiate could allow for a more constructive role from foreign powers," but "bringing the various foreign powers on board with compromise will require adapting to their key interests and red lines."

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hosted his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro for talks in Moscow and hailed ties between the two countries, which he described as consisting of "friendship and mutual understanding." Photos of their meeting in the Kremlin showed the presidents sitting close to each other, with a small end table between them, in contrast to recent meetings with European leaders that featured a table several meters long, reports the Associated Press.

  • Bolsonaro said during the visit that his country is interested in small nuclear reactors that are made by Russia's state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, reports Reuters.

  • Bolsonaro’s trip to Moscow had been on the books since December, well before the Ukraine crisis unfolded, but in recent days U.S. and Brazilian officials sought to dissuade Brazil's president from carrying out the visit. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • At least 104 people have died after heavy rains sent devastating mudslides and floods through Petrópolis, in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state. The downpours, which on Tuesday alone exceeded the average for the entire month of February, caused mudslides that buried homes, flooded streets, washed away cars and buses and left gashes hundreds of yards wide on the region’s mountainsides.The number of dead will likely rise as rescue efforts continue. (ReutersAssociated Press)
  • The United States, the European Union and others pledged $600 million in additional funds to help Haiti reconstruct its southern peninsula following a devastating earthquake six months ago. The pledges made during a conference held by the United Nations and Haiti's government fell short of an international push to raise $2 billion, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Jamaica's Supreme Court is trying 33 alleged gang members on charges including arson, murder and being part of a criminal organization. The case is testing recent judicial reforms designed to fight the island's powerful criminal groups, reports Reuters. Prime Minister Andrew Holness' government is hoping for convictions that could help slow gang violence in Jamaica, which authorities say is responsible for 70 percent of the country's homicides. (See last week's Just Caribbean Updates.)
  • Tentative signs of progress are emerging in talks between the private sector and Mexico's government towards forging a compromise on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's controversial energy reform plans. Mexico's desire to avoid conflict with the United States over a regional trade pact has increased pressure for an accord, reports Reuters.
  • A month after a massive oil spill off Peru's shore, dozens of beaches near Lima remain deserted and thousands of fishermen remain without work as clean up proceeds slowly. Less than a quarter of the 11,900 barrels spilled in January have been recovered, reports the Associated Press.
  • Chile's Constituent Convention started formally debating motions for a new magna carta this week. The issues are varied and foundational, including: debates over plans to nationalise mining, the creation of a one-chamber Congress, water rights, and protections for Indigenous territories, among others. (Al Jazeera)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

No comments:

Post a Comment