Crime & Justice

Muckraking Guatemalan journalist sentenced to prison

Guatemala City, Jun 14 (EFE).- After a trial plagued by irregularities, an award-winning journalist who exposed corruption in the administration of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei was sentenced here Wednesday to six years in prison for money laundering.

Jose Ruben Zamora Marroquin, the founder and editor of El Periodico newspaper, was acquitted on charges of blackmail and influence-peddling.

But Judges Oly Gonzalez and Hugo Otto Valvert concluded that the defendant engaged in a phony transaction to give a “licit appearance” to a sum of 300,000 quetzales ($38,000) of “undetermined” origin.

Zamora, according to the verdict, gave cash to former banker Ronald Garcia Navarijio and had the latter write a check in the same amount that was then deposited into an El Periodico business account.

Dozens of journalists and human rights advocates packed into the small courtroom in Guatemala City for the reading of the verdict.

Zamora, 67, was arrested on July 29, 2022, and has remained in custody since then.

Over the past decade, El Periodico has uncovered instances of corruption in three different presidential administrations, including that of Giammattei.

The daily has published more than 150 stories about wrongdoing in the current government and the editor’s arrest came five days after the El Periodico published a broadside against the incumbent head of state.

When reporters asked Zamora after sentencing if he had a message for the administration, he again proclaimed his innocence and declared that “President Giammattei is a thief.”

International bodies, including the Inter American Press Association, have accused Guatemalan authorities of violating Zamora’s right to due process. The judges barred defense witnesses from testifying and refused to admit exculpatory materials into evidence.

The defendant said that four of his attorneys were indicted to prevent them from representing him in the case, while two others fled the country amid death threats.

At least 30 judges, prosecutors, civic activists, and journalists have left Guatemala since 2018, citing political persecution as the reason for going into self-imposed exile.

The prosecutor handling the case against Zamora, Rafael Curruchiche, was sanctioned last year by the United States for allegedly obstructing corruption investigations in favor of bringing charges against officials with a track record of success battling graft.

In 2021, Zamora, who has survived an assassination attempt and a kidnapping over the course of his decades-long career, accepted on behalf of El Periodico a King of Spain International Journalism Prize, presented by King Felipe VI.

EFE dte/dr

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