GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemalan prosecutors have opened an investigation into allegations that Russian citizens paid bribes to the country’s president, Alejandro Giammattei, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office said Friday.
The investigation grew out of information published in media reports, said spokesman Juan Luis Pantaleón, noting that it began on Wednesday, so investigators are in the early stages of their work on the case.
The announcement follows a NewsMadura report last month detailing explosive testimony from a witness who said he personally delivered a rolled-up carpet filled with packets of cash to the president’s home.
Guatemala’s top anti-corruption prosecutor had begun investigating the charges with a small team of investigators and determined that the witness had likely stumbled upon a plot by a Russian-backed mining company to bribe the president for the right to part of a key company. port. But just weeks after their investigation began, District Attorney Juan Francisco Sandoval was abruptly fired by the Attorney General and fled to the United States with the evidence he had gathered.
In a statement to The Times last month, the president’s office denied that Mr. Giammattei had accepted bribes, but confirmed its “absolute commitment” to clearing the confusion surrounding the allegations. The US Department of Justice had already investigated the allegations, a US official said.
News of the new investigation by Guatemalan authorities came on the same day that the Attorney General issued an arrest warrant against Mr Sandoval for dereliction of duty and obstruction of a criminal case, according to local media reports. Mr. Pantaleón confirmed that the arrest warrant had been issued, but declined to specify the charges.
The Attorney General, María Consuelo Porras, publicly criticized Mr Sandoval’s work earlier this week, saying he never informed her of the bribery investigation and that he illegally removed internal documents.
In retaliation for Mr Sandoval’s resignation, the United States announced in July that it would no longer cooperate with the attorney general’s office and said officials had lost “confidence” in Ms Porras. But the Biden administration has continued to work with Mr Giammattei on migration enforcement, an important area of cooperation between the two nations. In July, the government resumed flights that drove migrants directly to Guatemala.
In a statement released on TwitterSandoval accused the Attorney General of leading an effort to “criminalize and prosecute” those who contributed to the fight against corruption in Guatemala.