New Guatemala government arrests former mayor in corruption raids

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala’s government said on Thursday prosecutors carried out raids and arrested a former mayor accused of corruption as the U.S. embassy announced it had revoked visas for some ex-officials in the Central American country this year.

The attorney general’s office said the raids led to the arrest of a former Mayor Ángel Ren Guarcas of Chiche wanted for campaign finance violations, but two other targets, including the economy minister who served under former President Jimmy Morales, could not be found.

The ex-minister, Acisclo Valladares Urruela, is accused of laundering money in a bribery scheme benefiting high-ranking officials and powerful business owners, prosecutors said.

The rapid efforts to close in on officials who enjoyed immunity until recently are among the first signs of action from President Alejandro Giammattei, who was sworn in on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, prosecutors issued warrants for five former lawmakers, including a close ally of Morales, and a special forces soldier who ran for the presidency last year.

Giammattei’s drive to uproot corruption from political life will be closely watched after Morales chased out the U.N.-backed anti-corruption body that put several senior figures behind bars and led an investigation into him and his family.

Most right-of-center politicians, including Giammattei, came to see the corruption body, known as CICIG, as an unacceptable violation of Guatemala’s sovereignty.

Giammattei said he will quickly create an anti-corruption force tied to the president’s office instead.

Separately, the U.S. embassy said in a statement some of the visas it had revoked in recent weeks belonged to government officials, citing criminal activity in some cases. Another 250 visas were revoked in 2019, the embassy added.

It did not name the people whose visas were withdrawn, nor detail the causes.

Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City, Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Cynthia Osterman