GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — The United States government has granted asylum to Guatemala’s former lead anti-corruption prosecutor two years after he was fired and fled the country under threat of arrest.
An internationally respected prosecutor, Juan Francisco Sandoval had participated in the prosecution of former President Otto Pérez Molina and his Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who resigned and was convicted and sentenced of corruption, as well as four other presidents, including outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei.
“Granting me political asylum is additional proof of the political persecution of which I am a victim for having participated in the investigation of illegal political-economic networks that are embedded in the state," Sandoval said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. He said those networks have involved six administrations, “including the current one of Giammattei.”
The deterioration of Guatemala’s justice system accelerated in 2019 when then-President Jimmy Morales forced the exit of the United Nations-backed anti-corruption mission. Sandoval, as the attorney general’s special prosecutor against impunity, worked closely with the foreign prosecutors working under the auspices of the U.N. to dismantle corrupt networks that controlled Guatemala. More than a thousand people, including former presidents, judges, lawmakers and other public officials were prosecuted.
But under Giammattei, the Attorney General’s Office began to pursue the same judges and prosecutors like Sandoval who had led the fight against corruption. More than 40 former justice system figures are in exile.
“After two years away I understand better that the Guatemalan state is a seized state and any person who questions it or puts at risk the corrupt system is going to be a victim of exile, will lose his freedom or risk his life,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval fled Guatemala under cover of darkness just hours after being fired by Attorney General Consuelo Porras in July 2021. He was accompanied by Sweden’s ambassador as he crossed to El Salvador. Porras had accused him of “abuses” without specifying what they were.
Sandoval said that pressure on him inside the Attorney General’s Office increased after he received information related to alleged acts of corruption by Giammattei, including an allegation of taking bribes from a Russian mining company.
Giammattei has denied the allegations.
Sandoval said Porras, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government as an undemocratic actor for obstructing corruption investigations, spent days in his office reviewing his case files to see what he had on Giammattei.
Since fleeing Guatemala, Sandoval has been the subject of dozens of complaints to the Attorney General’s Office and six arrest orders.
President-elect Bernardo Arévalo, who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, has said he would allow Sandoval and others who were forced into exile to return, and that he would listen to their ideas about how to take up the corruption fight again.
This week Arévalo publicly called for Porras to resign as her office continues to investigate the registration of his party and the election.