GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan prosecutors formally charged on Friday ex-President Alvaro Colom and 11 of his former Cabinet members with participating in a corruption scheme involving Guatemala City’s Transurbano bus system.
In a hearing before a Guatemala City judge, Eduardo Cojulum, the head of the federal Attorney General’s Office’s Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity, Juan Francisco Sandoval, read out the charges against the 12 defendants in the case.
That office has been assisted in its investigation by the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which was created in 2007 to help the Central American nation’s criminal justice system battle organized crime, corruption and impunity.
Prosecutors say the defendants participated in a scheme to illegally – and without proper legal oversight – pay $35 million to the Association of Urban Bus Companies for the installation of a pre-paid card system.
Sandoval said the official who served as Colom’s finance minister, former Oxfam International Chairman Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight, was guilty of “grave abuse of public trust” for allowing the deal to be “fraudulently” approved, saying he knew that no prior suitability analysis had been conducted to justify that investment.
Prosecutors also accused Colom of facilitating the agreement even though he knew it was the product of fraudulent mechanisms and that the association of bus companies could not deliver on what it had promised.
With the stated goal of improving Guatemala City’s public transportation system, which has been deficient for decades, Colom’s government launched a scheme aimed at “evading the mechanisms of state control to defraud the government, the Association’s union members and citizens in general,” the prosecutor said.
Among the other defendants are Colom’s former government, defense, education, labor, economy, environment, health and culture ministers.
All of the suspects, including Colom, who governed Guatemala from 2008 to 2012, have been jailed in Guatemala City since being arrested on Feb. 13.
Of the $35 million, $13.9 million was used to purchase equipment that is sitting unused in a warehouse and $6 million was used to pay expenses “incompatible with the investment project,” Sandoval said.
Three other Guatemalan former presidents – Alfonso Portillo, Otto Perez Molina and Alvaro Arzu – also have faced corruption charges in recent years as a result of investigations spearheaded by the CICIG.
Current President Jimmy Morales, for his part, sought to expel current CICIG chief, Colombian jurist Ivan Velasquez, last August after the latter had announced two days earlier that he would seek to strip the head of state of his immunity from prosecution so he can be investigated for alleged campaign financing irregularities.
A month later, Congress voted overwhelmingly to retain Morales’ immunity.