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Guatemala corruption commission issues arrest warrants for former officials

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) [official website] on Wednesday announced that it had issued arrest warrants for former government officials in relation to the extrajudicial killing of several inmates following a 2007 prison riot. The CICIG issued 18 warrants [El Heraldo report, in Spanish], including those for former interior minister Carlos Vielmann, former police director Erwin Sperissen and former prison director Alejandro Giammettei. In addition, the former officials are accused of involvement in the extrajudicial killing of three inmates [AP report] who escaped from another prison in 2005. The former officials are suspected of being members of an organization formed by the Interior Ministry and the national police in 2004 which was involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping and extortion in addition to committing the killings. President Alvaro Colom praised the warrants for helping to end the culture of impunity enjoyed by corrupt officials. Six were arrested in connection with the case earlier this week, but Vielmann, Sperissen and Giammettei remain free. Vielmann and Sperissen are both believed to have left the country, whereas Giammettei took refuge at the Honduran embassy earlier in the week, seeking asylum to prevent his prosecution, which he described as politically motivated. Colom has refuted these claims, arguing that his government has had no hand in the court's actions. The Honduran ambassador to Guatemala has announced that his government had denied Giammettei's request, and that he would be turned over to Guatemalan authorities Friday. Former Honduran foreign minister Enrique Ortez has appealed that decision [El Heraldo report, in Spanish], arguing that releasing Giammettei into Guatemalan custody would be a death sentence.

Official corruption has long been a problem in Guatemala. In June, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court [official website, in Spanish] removed Attorney General Conrado Reyes from office after CICIG head Carlos Castresana accused him of ties to organized crime [JURIST reports]. Castresana included the accusation when citing his reasons for resigning from his position. An interim attorney general has been appointed, and Reyes has indicated he will not appeal the decision. In March, following an 11-month investigation with CICIG, Guatemalan authorities arrested two high-ranking police officials [JURIST report] tasked with leading the country's war on drugs on charges of corruption and drug trafficking. Also in March, the US State Department released its 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report [text, PDF], which highlighted Guatemala as a key player in the Latin American drug trade. Corruption among high-ranking officials was cited as one of the country's biggest problems. The Guatemalan Congress voted to create CICIG [JURIST report] in 2007 in order to investigate organized crime and official corruption.

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