By Sofia Menchu | Feb 16 (Reuters)
GUATEMALA CITY - The Guatemalan Prosecutor's Office confirmed on Wednesday the arrest of two assistant prosecutors from the Special Prosecutor's Office against Impunity (FECI), the latest in a string of detentions of anti-corruption officials.
The early morning arrests occurred in the midst of a brewing political scandal that has shaken the Central American nation and drawn criticism from the United States.
Earlier this week, the Salvadoran investigative media outlet El Faro reported that President Alejandro Giammattei had received illicit money for his 2019 presidential campaign, sparking widespread outrage.
Giammattei's press secretary has denied the allegations.
Luis Pantaleon, spokesman for the Public Ministry, told Reuters the two assistant prosecutors were facing charges of abuse of authority for allegedly coercing a person into giving testimony.
"By means of threats, violence or an intimidating process, they tried to force the complainant to sign an effective collaboration agreement," the Public Ministry said in a statement.
Both assistant prosecutors were involved in uncovering a corruption plot between lawyers, politicians and businessmen to elect judges. Guatemalan authorities say arrest warrants are pending against two other assistant prosecutors involved in that case.
It was the second time within a week that people working on high-level anti-corruption cases have been arrested.
"The United States is deeply concerned by the Guatemalan Public Ministry’s unacceptable mistreatment and persistent abuse of current and former independent prosecutors," said Ned Price, U.S. State Department spokesman, in a statement.
Last Thursday, authorities arrested Leyly Santizo, a lawyer who worked with the now-defunct International Commission against Impunity (CICIG), the U.N.-backed entity that was expelled from Guatemala in 2018, after probes by the commission led to the imprisonment of former presidents, and high-level businessmen involved in corruption.
Days later, authorities also detained Eva Sosa, a former FECI prosecutor.
Human rights organizations and the international community condemned the arrests of anti-corruption officials.
The Public Ministry carried out searches and arrests based on sealed indictments and selectively leaked case information under the leadership of Attorney General Consuelo Porras, said Price.
The U.S. spokesman added that Guatemalan authorities involved had the apparent intention of punishing citizens who are combating impunity and promoting transparency.
On Tuesday night, the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry published a statement to "demand" that diplomatic agents accredited in the country "refrain from intervening in internal affairs."