By SONIA PÉREZ D.
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A Guatemalan court has tossed out an agreement that made it easier to prosecute bribery involving the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht — a ruling that favors a former cabinet official accused of corruption.
The decision announced late Friday adds to a series of moves reversing efforts to uproot corruption involving the Central American country’s political and business elite.
The appeals court annulled an agreement under which Odebrecht had promised to give Guatemalan anti-corruption prosecutors information about bribes it had paid in Guatemala — one of many countries across the hemisphere where it systematically suborned public officials.
The action cane in response to an appeal by former Communications Minister Alejandro Sinibaldi, who had been accused of taking bribes from Odebrecht.
Under pressure from prosecutors in the U.S., Brazil and elsewhere, the company has admitted paying bribes across Latin America to win government contracts. The company has cooperated with prosecutors in several countries to regain the right to do business. It allegedly paid $17.9 million in bribes to local officials, politicians and private citizens in Guatemala.
Sinibaldi had been a fugitive for six years, but surrendered to authorities days after the anti-corruption prosecutor who was investigating him, Juan Francisco Sandoval, was fired after receiving corruption allegations against President Alejandro Giammattei.
Giammattei’s government and a new team of prosecutors accelerated efforts begun by his predecessor to undo a U.N.-backed anti-corruption campaign that had put several top officials, including ex-presidents, behind bars. They say those prosecutions themselves were irregular.
Instead, it has been filing legal charges against the former anti-corruption officials themselves, and more than 20 of them have fled the country.
he U.S. government has sharply criticized the weakening of anti-corruption efforts and last year cancelled the U.S. visa of Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who has been pursuing former prosecutors.
In announcing the court decision, prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche said those who signed the agreement didn’t have authority to do so, and said the ruling supports his investigations into the actions of those who had been prosecuting corruption cases.
Sandoval, among those now abroad, said it was “a disgrace that the prosecutor would be celebrating a court ruling that would leave the case unpunished,” and said it added to a campaign to discredit judicial officials.