Guatemala’s Top Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Flees Country
Just hours after being fired, Guatemala's top anti-corruption investigator fled on Saturday to El Salvador, claiming he had to "safeguard his life" and avoid being used by corrupt officials.
Juan Francisco Sandoval, who had led the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) until Friday, was recently told not to investigate officials under President Alejandro Giammattei without the attorney general's consent.
In a move that sparked international disapproval, Guatemala's Attorney General Maria Porras removed Sandoval from his post at FECI – which was originally created to tackle investigations in conjunction with the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).
Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed serious concerns at the time, saying “violence and extortion by powerful criminal organizations remain serious problems in Guatemala.”
“Sadly, this has become a situation that many public servants in Guatemala have had to go through simply because we are not useful for the regime,” Sandoval said, according to the Associated Press.
“Wherever I am, I’m going to continue working for the good of the people of Guatemala, but for my own safety, I am not going to be used by people who have made exploiting government funds a way of life,” he said.
The Attorney General's Office said Sandoval had been let go due to "constant abuses" of the institution.
His firing sparked criticism from humanitarian groups and public officials globally and protesters gathered outside Guatemala's presidential palace on Saturday.
The Center against Corruption and Impunity in the North of Central America (CCINOC) said the decision would create "setbacks in the fight against corruption in the region."
Julie Chung, the U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, wrote on Twitter that Sandoval’s firing “is a step backward for the rule of law” in Guatemala. She added that his removal “contributes to the perception that there is a systematic effort in Guatemala to weaken those who fight against corruption.”
Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), called Sandoval’s firing by Porras an “outrageous move”: “The Guatemalan people deserve better.”
This comes just a few months after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited the country and stressed the office’s importance, during a growing push against anti-corruption efforts in the country.