Guatemala’s Supreme Court suspends top anti-corruption judge
Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice announced on Tuesday that it has suspended Judge Pablo Xitumul, known for his fight against corruption and handling high-profile cases against military and former government officials.
The decision comes a day after prominent judge Erika Aifan resigned from her post and fled to exile in the United States, alleging she was being persecuted for her work as a renowned anti-corruption figure within the institution. “It was an orchestrated plan to get Judge Aifan and me out. I’m calm, we expected it and I’m in Guatemala,” Xitumul told Reuters by phone.
Xitumul and Aifan both worked as judges in the country’s so-called “high-risk” courts, which were created after the CICIG, a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission; and they both pushed for reforms to investigate organized crime and corruption. The CICIG was closed in 2019 under the government of former President Jimmy Morales who refused to renew his mandate, effectively expelling the organization from the country.
Xitumul’s suspension comes after a police officer filed a complaint against him saying he wanted to inspect his vehicle and apparently objected, according to the court document. His suspension includes the right to a salary while authorities investigate. The judge told a local TV station that the police arrested him for no reason.
In 2018, Xitumul sentenced former Vice President Roxana Baldetti to 15 years in prison for fraud, illicit association and mismanagement of public resources in the case known as “Agua Magica”. It also sentenced Efrain Rios Montt, a former leader of Guatemala, to 80 years for genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013.
Throughout his career, Xitumul has also condemned several military officials for massacres that occurred during the civil war in Guatemala. Xitumul was among the judges who denounced recent reports of persecution and harassment by unidentified armed individuals before the prosecution in June.
The judge said there was nothing against him that had any merit in court. “I trust my colleagues, but not the attorney general’s office,” he added. Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras is an ally of current conservative President Alejandro Giammattei. Rights groups have accused his administration of trying to thwart the courts’ anti-corruption efforts.
On Tuesday morning, Giammattei released a statement on Twitter, saying “My administration remains fully committed to upholding the rule of law and protecting all members of the judiciary from threats and harm.” So far this year, at least 10 justice figures have fled the country to the United States due to prosecutions against those who worked on CICIG cases.
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