Guatemala’s top anti-graft investigator, Juan Francisco Sandoval, fled the country Saturday to “safeguard his life,” hours after he was sacked in a move that sparked international backlash, a human rights official said.
Guatemalan Ombudsman Jordan Rodas accompanied Sandoval to the Salvadoran border “in light of the difficult decision to leave the country to safeguard his life and integrity due to recent events,” according to the Central American country’s human rights body.
Sandoval had been fired from his post as head of Guatemala’s Prosecutor Against Corruption and Impunity (FECI) on Friday by Attorney General Consuelo Porras.
Sandoval said he had encountered many obstacles in his work at FECI and that he was told not to investigate President Alejandro Giammattei without the attorney general’s consent, saying this request went “against the autonomy and independence” of FECI.
The Attorney General’s Office said he had been let go due to “constant abuses and frequent violations” of the institution and that attempts had been made to “undermine” the “work, integrity and dignity” of Porras.
His firing sparked criticism from the US State Department, which has called him an “anti-corruption champion”, as well as outcry from humanitarian groups, civil society and businesses.
Acting Assistant Secretary for the US State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung, condemned Sandoval’s sacking in a tweet on Friday, saying it “is a significant setback to rule of law.”
“It contributes to perceptions of a systemic effort to undermine those known to be fighting corruption,” she added.
The Center against Corruption and Impunity in the North of Central America (CCINOC) also hit out at Porras’ decision, saying it would create “setbacks in the fight against corruption in the region.”
FECI was initially created to work alongside the UN International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to combat corruption and impunity, but the body’s work was stopped in 2019 under a decision by then-president Jimmy Morales, after he was singled out by both entities for electoral corruption.
On Saturday, around 1,000 protesters took to the streets of Guatemala City in solidarity with Sandoval and to demand the resignation of President Giammattei and the attorney general.
“We want the resignation of the corrupt prosecutor who is at the service of the president,” a university student shouted through a loudspeaker.
The demonstrators also blasted the president, a doctor by profession, for poor management of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a lack of vaccines and supplies in the public hospitals.