Monday, May 25, 2009

Municipalities Being Investigated for Corruption

The Ministerio Publico has allegations and complaints against at least 50 mayors, former mayors, and council members for crimes such as embezzlement, fraud, blackmail, money laundering, abuse of authority, dereliction of duty, making threats, and more.

Among the communities that are being investigated are Saint Martin Jilotepéque, Dolores, Petén, San Antonio Huista, Huehuetenango, Jutiapa, Coban, Alta Verapaz, San Pedro La Laguna, Solola, Joyabaj, Quiché, San Jose La Arada, Chiquimula, and Coatepeque, Quetzaltenango. There are also actions against municipalities in the department of Guatemala, San Raymundo, San Pedro Ayampuc, Petapa, and Chinautla, among others.

The complaints are being processed by prosecutors in the divisions of Administrative Offenses Against Corruption, Money Laundering, and district agencies, among others. The number of actions could increase after the Controller General of Accounts presents the results of audits conducted in all communities later this month.

"Among the most common abnormalities are pay for work that was not completed, forged documents that allegedly prove the amount of work done, payment of social security contributions and income taxes with public funds, and funds simply missing from the municipal coffers," said Omar Contreras, Prosecutor against Corruption.

Other prosecutors reported that one of the major difficulties in prosecution is that by the time the crime is discovered much time has passed and then judges take months to reach a decision to issue an arrest warrant.

Thus far in the process, prosecutors have managed to get 30 arrest warrants issued against individuals associated with these case. More are pending and others are in the preliminary stages.

Prosecutors are aware of cases involving Q10 million to Q12 million and the greatest delay in the process occurs in the court system.

In the past, such crimes usually go unpunished. By law, public officials enjoy automatic immunity from prosecution. That immunity can be removed by a court but the courts have traditionally been very reluctant to remove it even when presented with strong evidence that a crime has been committed.