Guatemalan judge resigns, flees country (March 22, 2022)
One of Guatemala's most important judges, and a key figure in combating corruption in the country, submitted her resignation yesterday. Judge Erika Aifán had learned from colleagues that Guatemala's Supreme Court was planning to strip her of her judicial immunity and could send her to prison, reports the Washington Post.
Though she had initially decided to face potential prison time in Guatemala, Aifán told El Faro that she feared for her personal safety in Guatemala. "It’s obvious that I would not receive due process and the guarantees of a democratic justice system. My life was in danger in Guatemala."
Last month El Faro revealed that a witness in Aifán's court accused President Alejandro Giammattei of financing his electoral campaign with $2.6 million in bribes from construction firms. Attorney General Consuelo Porras then filed seven motions to repeal Aifán’s judicial immunity from prosecution, seeking to jail the judge who could put Guatemala's president in prison. (See Feb. 17's post.)
Giammattei requested a copy of the recording of the witness testimony implicating him, Aifán told El Faro, clarifying that she rejected the request because the president is neither plaintiff nor defendant and that the trial is sealed from the public.
Aifán secretly fled to Washington earlier this month, joining a growing group of high-level Guatemalan judges and prosecutors who have left the country, in response to threats and detentions of judicial officials who were overseeing cases involving institutional corruption. Fourteen judges and prosecutors have fled to the U.S. in response to the persecution at home, reports El País. Many have pointed to Porras' role in blocking their work and protecting criminal networks.
Aifán posted a video on Twitter describing her reasons for resigning: “Criminal and political networks that have been affected by judicial advances decided to co-opt institutions and persecute those who have tried to combat impunity,” she said. Aifán played a vital role in the anti-graft push led by a U.N.-backed anti-corruption body, kicked out of the country in 2019. Human Rights Watch said Aifán’s departure would hurt Guatemala’s judicial system, reports Reuters.
The relationship between Giammattei's government and the U.S. Biden administration, has become increasingly strained as Guatemala cracks down on members of the judiciary who investigate the country's deeply entrenched government corruption.
Last month 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."
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