Former Constitutional Court Judge Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre Appointed Vice President

Guatemala’s Congress appointed Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre vice president on May 14 following the May 8 resignation of Roxana Baldetti amid a growing tax fraud scandal that named Baldetti’s private secretary as ringleader.

Maldonado was one of three candidates put forth by President Otto Pérez Molina. An earlier list included Labor Minister Carlos Contreras, constitutionally barred from participating, and legislator Oliverio Garcia Rodas, removed from the list following a failure of the congress to reach an agreement.

Maldonado is no stranger to the executive. Since the 1960s, he was a member of the far-right political party National Liberation Movement (Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional – MLN), alleged to have started the use of death squads against communists. He was also minister of education under the military regime of Arana Osorio (1970-1974) and defended Guatemala before the United Nations when the international community isolated the military regime of Lucas Garcia (1978-1982) for its gross human rights violations.

Most recently, Maldonado served as a constitutional court judge where he was responsible for several controversial decisions. He ruled with the majority to annul on a technicality the 2013 verdict convicting former dictator Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. The case has been at a standstill since then. He also ruled to shorten the term of former attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz on dubious reasoning related to transitional provisions of the constitution. Commentators have argued that the decision was a reprimand for her independence and for her advancing cases against military actors. Further, Maldonado ruled with the majority in a November decision endorsing a contested judicial selection process despite clear evidence of corruption.

Baldetti’s resignation and the appointment of Maldonado did not calm the population’s clamor. On Saturday, more than 60,000 Guatemalans gathered in Guatemala City, demanding the resignation of President Pérez Molina and other public officials implicated in corruption.

Judges on Trial?

Meanwhile, following the presentation of evidence by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the public prosecutor, the Supreme Court lifted the immunity of two judges facing bribery charges. Marta Sierra de Stalling was the preliminary judge in the case related to the tax fraud scheme, alleged to have accepted a bribe from defense lawyers in exchange for their release on bail. (The case has now been sent to a high-risk court with the preliminary procedures overseen by Judge Miguel Angel Galvez.)

Judge Carol Patricia Flores, an investigative judge of the high-risk courts, is also alleged to have benefited from corruption as her assets far exceed her source of income as a judge and university professor. Judge Flores has been responsible for numerous controversial rulings in cases implicating military actors. Most notably, she issued numerous decisions during the Rios Montt trial to prevent the trial’s advance, including reverting the trial to a preliminary phase years prior and seeking to annulling all proceedings.  She also removed the most serious charges from military officers alleged responsible for killing indigenous protesters at the Cumbre de Alaska in October 2012.

The court assigned an investigative judge to each case, charged with submitting a report to the Supreme Court, which will have the final word on whether their immunity should be lifted and a criminal investigation should begin.

Swiss Court Confirmed Life Sentence for Former Chief of Guatemalan Police

On May 12, a Geneva appellate court confirmed a sentence of life imprisonment against Erwin Sperisen, former head of Guatemala’s national police. Sperisen was convicted in 2014 of extrajudicial killings in connection with the death of ten detainees in 2005 and 2006.

In 2005, authorities killed three detainees after they escaped from the “El Infiernito” detention center. In 2006, police officials raided Pavón prison and killed seven detainees in a social cleansing operation. They subsequently disguised the killings to present them as a confrontation between prisoners and security officials.

CICIG had identified Sperisen and Carlos Vielmann, former Interior Minister awaiting trial in Spain, as responsible for ordering the killings of the prisoners.