In a development that could have profound effect on pending national trials of grave crimes in Guatemala, on April 30 the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the public prosecutor filed a request with the judiciary to impeach Judge Carol Patricia Flores and remove her immunity so that she can be investigated for money laundering, illicit gain, and related offenses. According to the request, a preliminary investigation indicated that Judge Flores possesses a house worth $350,000 that she has never declared, despite an obligation to do so, the value of which exceeds her purchasing power based on her monthly income.
Judge Flores is the investigative pre-trial judge of High-Risk Court A. In recent years, she has played a prominent and controversial role in grave crimes cases, including the trial of former head of state Efraín Ríos Montt and his head of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, for genocide and crimes against humanity. On April 18, 2013, when nearly all of the evidence in the case had been heard after a month of testimony, Judge Flores issued a ruling that the trial would have to return to where it had stood in November 2011. The trial judges, who disputed the standing of a pre-trial judge to reset the proceedings, continued the trial, finding Ríos Montt guilty in a decision subsequently annulled by the constitutional court, which ordered a retrial. Because of Judge Flores’s April 2013 decision, the question of the new trial’s starting point remained unclear until December 2014, when the constitutional court ruled her decision illegal. Although the constitutional court ordered her to hold a hearing to rescind her decision, she has refused to do so without the presence of the ailing Ríos Montt.
Judge Flores has likewise made controversial rulings in another historical grave crimes case involving Ríos Montt, as well as a contemporary grave crimes case. In May 2012, when prosecutors sought to charge the former head of state with homicide for his role in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre of 201 people, Judge Flores changed the charges to genocide, against the wishes of the prosecutor and civil parties. Ríos Montt paid bail and was granted house arrest, whereas if he had been charged with homicide, article 264 of the Criminal Procedural Code forbids bail and requires pre-trial detention. The case stalled as the prosecutor and civil parties requested the removal of Judge Flores from the case—a request the constitutional court provisionally rejected in June 2014. In another case, in which soldiers shot to death six indigenous protesters at Cumbre de Alaska in October 2012, Flores sent a colonel and eight other soldiers to face trial, but controversially changed the initial charges of “extrajudicial killing” to much lesser counts of “breach of duty”.
Upon receipt of the request from CICIG and prosecutors to impeach Judge Flores and strip her of immunity, the judiciary referred the matter to a first-instance court for criminal, drug-trafficking, and environmental offenses. In the coming days, a judge will have to decide whether the prosecutor and CICIG have presented reasonable evidence to suspect Judge Flores of involvement in criminal activities. A positive determination would lead to the lifting of Judge Flores’ immunity and she could face criminal investigation.
Earlier this year, CICIG and the public prosecutor presented similar actions against judges Jisela Reynoso and Erick Santiago citing allegations of participation in corruption-related crimes. In both case, the Supreme Court of Justice lifted their immunity and the judges are currently the object of a criminal investigation. However, no formal indictment has been presented by the public prosecutor yet in either case.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal officially opened the campaign season on May 3 for September’s general elections, even as public protests continued against corruption, with calls for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and his vice president, Roxana Baldetti. The protests began after CICIG and national prosecutors acted on April 16 to dismantle a criminal network of public servants and outside actors that allegedly committed large-scale customs-tax fraud. Baldetti’s former Private Secretary Carlos Monzon allegedly headed the criminal ring. He remains at large, and a judge has ordered a search of the vice president’s properties.