Guatemala appoints controversial new anti-corruption prosecutor

Move comes after sacking of former anti-corruption prosecutor spurred mass protests and international criticism.

Tens of thousands of Guatemalans have protested against the sacking of the country's former top anti-corruption prosecutor, Juan Francisco Sandoval, last month [File: Moises Castillo/AP Photo]

Guatemala’s attorney general, under fire for sacking the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor last month, has appointed a controversial new figure to take up the post.

Maria Porras’s office said on Tuesday that Rafael Curruchiche, who headed a unit investigating electoral crimes but has been accused of prosecuting the political opposition and protecting the corrupt, would take over from Juan Francisco Sandoval.

“The Attorney General … reiterates her commitment to ensuring the continuity of the fight against impunity and corruption,” her office said in a statement.

The move comes days after tens of thousands of Guatemalans protested across the country to demand the resignation of Porras as well as President Alejandro Giammattei for removing Sandoval from his post.

The internationally recognised anti-corruption leader fled the country hours after his dismissal, saying he did not feel safe.

Sandoval led the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), created to tackle investigations spearheaded by the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

The CICIG was removed from the country in 2019.

His sacking drew international condemnation, with the United States saying last week that the move “fits a pattern of behaviour that indicates a lack of commitment to the rule of law and independent and judicial and prosecutorial processes”.

US President Joe Biden’s administration, which has urged Central American nations to tackle corruption as part of its effort to slow migration to the United States, also said it would suspend some cooperation with the Guatemalan attorney general in response to Sandoval’s removal.

“As a result, we have lost confidence in the attorney general and her intention to cooperate with the US government and fight corruption in good faith,” US State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters on July 27.

On Tuesday, Guatemalan opposition member of Parliament Samuel Perez said the new anti-corruption prosecutor, Curruchiche, was “known for his persecution of the opposition and his defence of the model of corruption”.

The Guatemalan media has reported on cases in which Curruchiche is suspected of protecting people accused of electoral crimes, including businessmen suspected of illegally financing the party of former President Jimmy Morales.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies