US suspends cooperation with Guatemala attorney general

Jul 27, 2021, 6:14 PM | Updated: 7:07 pm
A protestors holds a sign with a portrait of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei outside the ...

A protestors holds a sign with a portrait of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei outside the National Palace as people attend a rally in support of anti-corruption prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval, in Guatemala City, Saturday, July 24, 2021. Sandoval fled Guatemala late Friday, arriving in neighboring El Salvador just hours after he was removed from his post. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

(AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — The U.S. government has suspended cooperation with Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office in response to the firing of its top anti-corruption prosecutor, saying Tuesday that it has “lost confidence” in the Central American country’s willingness to fight corruption.

U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters in Washington that the decision by Guatemala Attorney General Consuelo Porras to fire Juan Francisco Sandoval, the special prosecutor against impunity, “fits a pattern of behavior that indicates a lack of commitment to the rule of law and independent, judicial, and prosecutorial processes.”

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

She said the suspension would remain in effect while the U.S. reviews its assistance to the Attorney General’s Office.

A strong U.S. response was expected after Sandoval’s dismissal Friday. He fled the country the same day. Protests in Guatemala have called for Porras’ resignation.

The firing came less than two months after Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala and spoke with President Alejandro Giammattei about the importance of the country’s anti-corruption efforts. Harris has targeted corruption in the region as one of the key factors in pushing outward migration.

Porter noted that U.S. officials had repeatedly made it clear to the “highest levels of government of Guatemala our view that the fight against corruption is essential to our shared goals of strengthening the rule of law, increasing economic opportunity, and addressing the root causes of irregular migration.”

She said the U.S. government recognized that Porras had the authority to dismiss Sandoval, “but our concern is what the implications with this decision for the rule of law and regional stability.”

A day before Sandoval’s firing, Porras had reassigned another prosecutor from Sandoval’s office.

Porras has defended Sandoval’s firing, accusing him of ideological bias in his prosecutions. Porras was appointed by the previous president, Jimmy Morales, but Giammattei has spoken of his friendship with her as well.

Sandoval said Porras had repeatedly worked to block his investigations, especially those with proximity to Giammattei.

Sandoval applauded the U.S. move. He told The Associated Press that the U.S. government’s decision was “consistent with the United States policy of respecting the culture of law.”

The Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that it had not been officially notified of the suspension in cooperation.

“We have always worked in a coordinated manner in the interests of both countries,” it said. “In this case we respect the decisions of the U.S.; the Attorney General’s Office is an independent and autonomous institution so we will continue working like normal to the benefit of the Guatemalan people.”

La oficina de prensa de la fiscalía dijo que no habían sido notificados oficialmente. “Siempre se ha trabajado de manera coordinada en favor de los intereses de ambos países. En este caso respetamos las decisiones de EE.UU; el Ministerio Público es una institución independiente y autónoma por lo que seguiremos trabajando con normalidad en beneficio de la población guatemalteca”.

On Sunday, lawyer Marco Aurelio Alveño Hernández said he had told Sandoval’s office that one of his clients, a former Guatemalan central banker, had paid a bribe through Alveño to an adviser of Porras so his corruption case was moved from Sandoval’s office to another prosecutor.

Alveño fled the country Sunday with his family fearing potential retribution for his cooperation with Sandoval’s office.

Guatemala’s government has been criticized over the past year for driving out judges known for taking a hard line on corruption. The moves are a continuation of the effort that ended the 12-year run of the United Nations’ anti-corruption mission in Guatemala in 2019 during Morales’ presidency.

___

Associated Press writer Sonia Perez D. reported this story in Guatemala City and AP writer Matthew Lee reported from Washington.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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US suspends cooperation with Guatemala attorney general