CICIG’s investigations show web of corruption in Guatemalan state. Now, what’s next?

Two weeks ago, CICIG (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala) revealed that the Partido Popular (PP), the former governing party of now disgraced and imprisoned former president Otto Pérez Molina and his—also incarcerated—vice president Roxana Baldetti, was engaged in a web of corruption far more extensive than initially thought. Shortly after reaching power, the party, under the direction of President Pérez Molina, had established an organized criminal structure that had seized the state, and developed an elaborate scheme of collusion between the local private sector and the state to enrich public servants and grant companies easy access to government contracts.

The revelations come just as the so-called Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras) are about to receive a large infusion of international assistance through the $750 million U.S. funded Alliance for Prosperity that, rather than being limited to security sector support, seeks to stimulate economic development and strengthen democratic institutions. But given what CICIG has now revealed, are Guatemala and the other recipients ready to adopt the structural changes necessary to effectively channel and apply these funds, to address corruption at its roots?

CICIG was established in 2007 under the auspices of the United Nations to investigate organized criminal networks with links to the state. It is bound by Guatemalan law and must work closely with the country’s Public Ministry. CICIG’s operations have had their ups and downs, as has been documented in a recent report by the Open Society Justice Initiative. However, under the current leadership of Colombian prosecutor Iván Velásquez, it has made important strides in uncovering corruption and eroding impunity of even some of the most powerful.

CICIG’s most important case to date was brought to light in April 2015, when the investigatory body revealed a corruption scheme within the country’s customs authority. That case, named “La Línea,” implicated then-President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice-President Roxana Baldetti, as well as other high-level officials. The massive public outcry that followed led to the resignation of both the President and the Vice-President. Since then, CICIG and the Public Ministry have continued their investigations, and in the following months uncovered more such corruption rings involving high-level officials and prominent businesspeople.

Additional information retrieved through searches and phone taps exposed an even more extensive scheme than originally thought. In June 2016, CICIG concluded that the PP, the former government party, rather than having engaged in occasional (but serious) acts of corruption, was essentially an organized criminal enterprise whose primary purpose was to reach power to gain access to public resources for private gain. Continue reading

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Two weeks in the life of the ICC

Headlines from the ICC in the last two weeks, including from the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) (20 – 28 November) and from the Bemba trial, highlight conflicting legitimacy concerns at the Court. For some, these developments demonstrate serious weaknesses in the ICC system, while others see them as a sign of the Court’s flexibility and move into a more mature phase of operation.

The most prominent news emanating from the ASP was the Kenyan Government’s partially successful attempts to change the ICC’s legal framework. Its efforts are linked to indictments against Kenya’s current President and Deputy President related to 2007 post-election violence. Due to its effective diplomatic maneuvers, Kenya secured a change to the Rules of Procedure and Evidence to reverse the requirement for accused to be present throughout the trial. Receiving majority support amongst the 122 states parties, the rules will be amended to allow an accused to request to be represented by counsel during parts of their trial or to be ‘virtually’ present via video link.

Kenya’s more radical proposal, to amend Article 27 of the Statute to remove immunity for sitting heads of state – a key ICC innovation, consistent with the fundamental principle that no one is above the law – was advanced too late for debate at the 2013 ASP. However, its win on the rule change, and political support from other African states, will undoubtedly strengthen Kenya’s resolve to pursue this issue at future meetings.

In the midst of these debates, on 24 November the Court announced that it had executed five arrest warrants in relation to the long running Bemba trial. Jean Pierre Bemba, former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is indicted for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in the Central African Republic. Those arrested included Bemba’s lead defence counsel, other defence team members and Bemba himself for crimes related to corruptly influencing witnesses and knowingly presenting false or forged evidence.

The 12th ASP was also notable for other developments. For the first time, the ASP included a victims plenary session.  The session addressed challenges in implementing the ICC’s victims provisions, especially given resource constraints, and the need to better respond to specific categories of victims, especially those of sexual and gender based crimes. Continue reading