U.S. pauses some cooperation with Guatemala over ouster of anti-graft fighter

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FILE PHOTO: Guatemala attorney general fires leading anti-corruption prosecutor
FILE PHOTO: Juan Francisco Sandoval, who was removed by the Guatemala’s Attorney General as head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), speaks during a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala July 23, 2021. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

July 27, 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Tuesday it is pausing some cooperation with Guatemala’s criminal prosecutor after the ouster last week of the head of a prosecution unit charged with fighting corruption.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters on Tuesday that the United States was pausing programmatic cooperation with the Public Ministry, which is responsible for the prosecution of criminal cases.

Guatemala’s Attorney General Maria Porras removed anti-graft fighter Juan Francisco Sandoval from his post as the head of Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI). The office was originally created to tackle investigations spearheaded by the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) but was ousted from the country in 2019.

The United States was a vocal supporter of Sandoval’s work, which included investigating and litigating cases against former officials, presidents and business leaders in Guatemala. The State Department declared him an “anti-corruption champion” in a February award.

The July 23 decision to remove Sandoval “fits a pattern of behavior that indicates a lack of commitment to the rule of law and independent judicial and prosecutorial processes,” Porter said on Tuesday.

“As a result, we have lost confidence in the Attorney General and her intention to cooperate with the U.S. government and fight corruption in good faith,” Porter said.

The United States has committed to helping Central American countries fight impunity for high-level law breakers. In recent months, Washington has revoked the U.S. visas of two senior judges in Guatemala on graft suspicions and criticized lawmakers’ refusal to swear in a corruption-fighting judge.

“We are watching closely for any additional actions that would undermine the rule of law or judicial independence in Guatemala,” Porter warned.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)