Arrest warrants for Guatemalan ex-presidential candidate as immunity lapses

FILE PHOTO: Guatemala's former President Jimmy Morales arrives at a hotel, a temporary headquarters of Central America's regional parliament, for his sworn in as a new member, in Guatemala City, Guatemala January 14, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemalan prosecutors on Wednesday issued arrest warrants for five former lawmakers, including a close ally of Jimmy Morales, who left office as president just hours earlier, and a special forces soldier who ran for the presidency last year.

Prosecutors executed the warrants in a series of raids, capturing one of the former lawmakers, all of whom enjoyed immunity from prosecution until Tuesday, when their terms in Congress came to an end.

“I am not going to cover up any leaks,” new President Alejandro Giammattei said in an interview with Mexican network Televisa, when asked about his government’s will to fight corruption.

Several former officials and lawmakers, including Morales and his vice president, rushed to be sworn in as members of Central America’s regional parliament (Parlacen) late on Tuesday night, hours after leaving office, despite efforts by egg-throwing protesters to stop them.

In the regional parliament they also enjoy some protection from prosecution. Morales’ name was not among the warrants despite an investigation against him for electoral finance violations. He denies wrongdoing.

Former presidential candidate Estuardo Galdamez, a right-wing former member of the feared Kaibil special forces, who ran for Morales’ party in the 2019 election, was among those on the prosecutor’s wanted list. He was not found in the morning raids.

Another target was Othmar Sanchez, a close ally of Morales. Sanchez is wanted for fraud and money laundering in a case that also involves Morales’ brother and son.

Giammattei’s strategy to uproot corruption from political life will be closely watched after Morales chased out the U.N.-backed anti-corruption body that led the 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.

Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Jonathan Oatis