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Archbishop Gonzalo de Villa Guatemala, President of the Episcopal Conference of Guatemala Archbishop Gonzalo de Villa Guatemala, President of the Episcopal Conference of Guatemala 

Guatemala: Bishops decry dismissal of anti-graft prosecutor

The Bishops’ Conference of Guatemala (CEG) voice their opposition to the firing of leading anti-corruption prosecutor, Juan Francisco Sandoval, highlighting that the move will cause “irreparable damage” to the justice system of the country.

By Vatican News staff writer

The Bishops of Guatemala have aired their disapproval over the recent removal of internationally known graft prosecutor, Juan Francisco Sandoval, from his position as the head of Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI).

In their 5–point statement issued on Sunday, the bishops who decried Sandoval’s firing as “illegal and arbitrary” said that the public outcry that it generated, shows that it is a “setback in the efficient fight against corruption and impunity” that have done so much damage to the integral development of the country.

Sandoval’s firing

Guatemala’s attorney general, Maria Porras, removed Sandoval from his post on Friday, prompting public outcry and criticism that the move was a setback to the rule of law.

The Special Prosecutor’s unit, FECI, led by Sandoval, was originally created to tackle investigations spearheaded by the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) which was removed from the country in 2019. The agency had been hit with legal challenges seeking to declare it unconstitutional.

Porras defended Sandoval’s firing, accusing him of frequent abuses and undermining her work, though she did not provide further details.

Following the decision, hundreds of Guatemalans gathered outside the presidential palace on Saturday protesting the ouster of the anti-graft fighter.

Sandoval, known for his work in investigating and litigating cases against former officials, presidents and business leaders in Guatemala, reportedly fled the country to the Salvadoran borders on Saturday morning, hours after being sacked.

The importance of a functional justice system

In the statement signed by CEG President, Archbishop Gonzalo de villa y Vasquez, SJ, the bishops note that “prompt and impartial justice, and the investigation of crime are guarantors of freedom and democracy”. More so, “only if the law is respected and obeyed with a moral sense, can it be interpreted and applied in the service of the common good.”

In this regard, they stress that “nothing is more dangerous for the institutionalism of the country than to have mafias entrenched in the organs of the state” because those who rejoice at Sandoval’s dismissal only “feel safe and comfortable when the regime of impunity is consolidated.”

The bishops go on to point out that though it is common knowledge that the process of the administration of justice in Guatemala has serious flaws, the Public Prosecutor’s Office - the State body in charge of investigation and prosecution of crimes committed – has, in recent years, “been able to investigate acts that previously enjoyed total impunity, generating hope among citizens and relieving the victims.” And in these investigations, the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) played a fundamental role.

“Irreparable damage”

Further supporting their opinion that the abrupt dismissal of prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval has done “irreparable damage to the country,” the CEG expressed concern that important cases he was handling would be slowed down and the Office of the Public Prosecutor would suffer an increased loss of credibility.

On top of that, they feared that “citizen indignation will grow, social protests and the level of conflict will increase, and the already deficient management of the pandemic and the tortuous process of vaccinations will be further complicated.”

Appeal to authorities

Concluding their statement, the Bishops launched an appeal to authorities and all those who work in the justice institutions of the country, to continue to be committed to the pursuit of justice and to peacebuilding as a greater good. They also urged them to be courageous in recognizing their mistakes and to not lose “the horizon of the common good as the ultimate expression of the purpose of the State of Guatemala."

28 July 2021, 16:53