Guatemala’s attorney general ousted the internationally renowned bribery prosecutor on Friday as head of the anti-corruption unit, prompting US criticism that the move is an obstacle to the rule of law.
Juan Francisco Sandoval was fired as head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office to Combat Impunity (FECI), which faced lawsuits trying to declare the agency unconstitutional.
The unit was originally created to conduct investigations led by the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which was expelled from the country in 2019.
“Given the inevitable mistrust in the relationship, his job has been dismissed today,” Attorney General Maria Porras said in a statement, accusing Sandoval of frequent abuses and
undermining her work. She did not provide details.
Sandoval, at a press conference with Guatemala’s human rights ombudsman, said he would challenge his “illegal dismissal.” He accused the attorney general of asking his agency to get her opinion on any case in which the government was involved.
“If my dismissal has to pay, I prefer it than keep quiet about illegal activities,” he said. “I am the latest in a line of prosecutors who have suffered persecution for seeking truth and justice.”
President Alejandro Giammattei criticized Sandoval in an interview with Reuters in June for allowing him and a leading judge to allow political persuasion to color their work. However, the United States actively supported Sandoval’s work, which included investigations and prosecutions against former officials, presidents, and business leaders in Guatemala. The Department of State named him the “Anti-Corruption Champion” at the February award.
Sandoval’s removal prompted backlash from US officials, including Acting Assistant Secretary of State Julie Chung, who called the move a “significant return to the rule of law” and said it was imperative that the FECI remains intact.
The dismissal and divestment of Juan Francisco Sandoval, Guatemala’s chief prosecutor’s office against corruption and impunity (FECI), is a major obstacle to the rule of law. This contributes to the perception of systemic efforts to undermine those known to fight corruption. 1/3
– Julie Chang (@WHAAsstSecty) Jul 24, 2021
“This contributes to the perception of a systemic effort to undermine those known to fight corruption,” Chang said on Twitter. “The Guatemalan authorities must ensure his safety.”
Juan Gonzalez, one of the top aides to US President Joe Biden in Latin America, said on Twitter: “I don’t know what Porras is playing, but it’s becoming more obvious every day that this is not the rule of law.”
The United States is committed to helping Central American countries fight high-level offender impunity. In recent months, Washington has revoked US visas for two dignitaries.
judges in Guatemala on suspicion of corruption and criticized lawmakers’ refusal to swear an oath to an anti-corruption judge. Guatemala’s human rights ombudsman, Jordan Rodas, also called on Porras to step down.