GUATEMALA CITY –
An award-winning Guatemalan journalist jailed on alleged money laundering charges that government critics have denounced as a pressure tactic has faced consequences for his work before.
In 2003, government agents raided the home of José Rubén Zamora Marroquín and threatened his life after he wrote a column suggesting that former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt, then president of Congress, was leading a parallel government. .
Five years later, armed men kidnapped Zamora in the Guatemalan capital before releasing him 10 hours later outside the city beaten and drugged. No one was arrested, but at the time it was believed to be in response to his newspaper work.
On Friday, plainclothes investigators and police with assault rifles arrested Zamora at his home. His initial appearance before a judge was canceled Monday because the case file was apparently not available. The hearing was not immediately rescheduled, meaning Zamora would remain in jail.
It also meant that the details of the charges against Zamora remain a mystery. On Friday, government investigators also raided the offices of El Periódico and held its employees for more than 15 hours.
Zamora founded El Periódico in 1996 and quickly gained a reputation for uncovering government corruption. The newspaper did exclusive reporting on the current administration of President Alejandro Giammattei and at least three of his predecessors.
Last year and this year, El Periódico published a series of investigations on the visit of Russian businessmen to Guatemala who met with Giammattei. The newspaper’s investigation accused Giammattei of accepting bribes in exchange for a property concession in the port of Santo Tomás de Castilla.
Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who was recently re-elected by Giammattei for another term as the country’s top law enforcement official, has been sanctioned by the United States for conducting investigations against prosecutors and judges who investigated corruption cases.
On Monday, authorities raided the home of one of those earlier targets, former judge Erika Aifan, who had fled to the United States after exposing corruption.
Porras’ special anti-corruption prosecutor, Rafael Curruchiche, who is handling Zamora’s case, was also sanctioned by the US government as an alleged obstacle to investigating corruption.
Curruchiche has said that the case focuses on Zamora’s work as a businessman and not as a journalist, but has not offered details.
That was difficult for others at El Periódico to reconcile because the government froze the newspaper’s bank accounts.
“The bank accounts were suspended at the request of the (prosecutor’s office), with the sole intention of paralyzing the finances of said media outlet, making it impossible to fulfill their labor and contractual obligations,” said Gerson Ortiz, a news reporter for El Periódico. director.
Zamora’s son, Ramón Zamora, was more direct. “This is not a case against my father, this is a systematic attack on freedom of expression and democracy,” he said. “They started with the activists, they continued with the prosecutors and now they are starting to persecute the journalists.”