Guatemala The Prosecutor's Office requests 40 years in prison for the president and founder of 'El Periódico', José Rubén Zamora

The Special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity (FECI) of the Public Ministry of Guatemala today requested 40 years in prison for the president and founder of El Periódico, José Rubén Zamora, for the crimes of money laundering (20 years), influence peddling (12 ) and blackmail (8)

Guatemala The Prosecutor's Office requests 40 years in prison for the president and founder of 'El Periódico', José Rubén Zamora

The Special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity (FECI) of the Public Ministry of Guatemala today requested 40 years in prison for the president and founder of El Periódico, José Rubén Zamora, for the crimes of money laundering (20 years), influence peddling (12 ) and blackmail (8). The journalist, who has been in pretrial detention since he was arrested on July 29, is accused of laundering 300,000 quetzales (37,500 euros) for trying to enter that money into the banking system without having proven its origin. Likewise, he has requested a sentence of 8 years in prison for the former assistant prosecutor Samari Gómez for the crime of revealing confidential or reserved information.

As argued by the FECI prosecutor Cinthia Monterroso during the trial that began on May 2 in the Eighth Criminal Sentencing Court, Aldea Global S.A. through which El Periódico operated commercially, only "served as a date to launder money." Thus, he pointed out that, after analyzing the finances of this newspaper, which published its last edition on May 15, it was detected that Zamora delivered the 300,000 quetzales of "illegal" origin to the former director of the Banco de los Trabajadores Ronald García Navarijo, who was one of his sources as a journalist, so that he deposited it in a bank in the system.

Zamora maintains that this money comes from the sale of a painting, however, Navarijo denounced the case before the Prosecutor's Office and has testified against the journalist, as have former congressman Luis Hernández Azmitia and former banker Sergio Hernández.

In the case of Gómez, the Prosecutor's Office accuses her of having revealed information on several cases that it was investigating in which Navarijo was listed as the defendant to former FECI chief Juan Francisco Sandoval, who allegedly transferred the details to the journalist and founder of El Periódico. Thus, the prosecutor requested the maximum penalties contemplated in the Guatemalan Penal Code and, in the case of Zamora, with the aggravating circumstance of "contempt for authority" for the information published in her newspaper against the head of the Prosecutor's Office, Consuelo Porras, and the head of the Feci, Rafael Curruchiche.

In the conclusion phase, the prosecutor stressed that there is sufficient evidence to prove the influence peddling of which Zamora is accused by obtaining, as she pointed out, confidential information from high-impact cases by Sandoval and Samari Gómez.

After hearing the request of the Prosecutor's Office, Zamora began to laugh and, later, explained to the journalists that it is "laughter" that he requests 40 years in prison. However, he pointed out that, in the event of being sentenced to this sentence, he will have "a lot of time" to go to the Inter-American Court to seek international courts where "they exonerate me and recover my freedom." Regarding the accusation of money laundering, he remarked that he did not commit this crime, since the money did not have an illegal origin. Throughout the process, the defense of the founder of El Periódico has tried to convince the judge that the 300,000 quetzales came from a donation, although they were not deposited in their own account to avoid knowing who the donor was. In this way, it was about preventing the person who donated the money from being pressured by the Government, taking into account the investigations into corruption published by this media outlet and which affected the current president, Alejandro Giammattei.

Regarding blackmail, Zamora recalled that during the Alfonso Portillo government (2000-2004), he had his first 89 complaints, although "none for blackmail and I resolved them without having to go to any hearing."

He also indicated that former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, both in prison, filed 198 lawsuits "and none for blackmail."

In this line, he said that neither the three months of investigation that the MP had nor the ten months that he has spent in preventive detention in the Mariscal Zavala military prison "have managed to prove not a single blackmail", while, in the case of trafficking of influences, "there is no way, place, or time". For this reason, he insisted that he was laughing when they asked for 40 years in prison because at 66, "I had never been in a hearing and this would be my first sentence," despite the fact that the case is "really very fragile, for at least with a serious court".

In statements to 'Plaza Pública, Zamora believes that the journalistic profession in Guatemala should "feel threatened" by what is happening to him and, in this sense, recalls that the Prosecutor's Office is investigating another 9 journalists from El Periódico for an alleged crime of obstruction of justice after having published information about his case. "I do see it as very probable that with these elections (on June 25) an openly more fascist dictatorship without disguise, authoritarian and intolerant will be consolidated," he warns, while denouncing that "they have sought to persecute us judicially and have forced people to go out exile and, if things continue like this, there may eventually be murders of journalists".

Zamora has had up to nine lawyers throughout this process, four of whom were arrested accused of committing crimes in the defense, while a fifth left the country. Currently, two of his former lawyers remain in pretrial detention.

For her part, Samari Gómez, who also remains in preventive detention for 10 months, criticized that the case, called Blackmail, Impunity and Money Laundering, had as its "main intention" to harm Zamora, whose newspaper made serious accusations of corruption against officials and former officials of the current Government of Guatemala for corruption, including Giammattei. Thus, in its 26-year history, the newspaper was characterized by uncovering several cases of corruption, which made it the winner in 2021 of the King of Spain Award for Outstanding Media of Ibero-America. Zamora himself received the award from King Felipe VI.

Gómez, who had been working in the MP for 12 years, added that the other two intentions of this case against him are to "discredit the work done by the Special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity" and to withdraw him from the process in which Navarijo was being investigated in several corruption cases that suggest that several candidates for the Presidency of Guatemala received funds diverted from the Banco de Trabajadores to finance electoral campaigns. Thus, the former prosecutor recalls that Navarijo himself denounced that she had prevented the return of some funds that he was wanting to recover and that they had been seized after being accused of extracting funds from a bank and laundering money to finance the Party's electoral campaign. Patriot in 2011.

It so happens that both the attorney general of the MP, Consuelo Porras, and the head of the Feci Rafael Curruchiche, were included in 2021 and 2022, respectively, in the US Engel List of corrupt and non-democratic actors. In the case of Curruchiche, who this Tuesday attended the trial against Zamora and Gómez, the US accuses him of "obstructing investigations into acts of corruption by disrupting high-profile corruption cases against government officials and filing apparently spurious complaints against prosecutors from the FECI, private lawyers and members of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala".

Since he took office on August 3, 2021, some thirty Guatemalan justice operators have been "exiled" to the US fleeing persecution by the Prosecutor's Office, including his predecessor, Juan Francisco Sandoval and the judge who ordered the entry into imprisonment of former president Otto Pérez Molina in 2015, Miguel Ángel Gálvez.

The case against Zamora has caused the US and European Union countries to urge "full respect for due process" and the protection of the personal safety of the founder of El Periódico. The spokesman for the US State Department, Ned Price, criticized, after learning that nine other journalists were being investigated, that "criminalizing the work of journalists and civil society undermines democratic norms and respect for freedom of expression."

In addition, nine international organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, asked the Guatemalan authorities to "respect and protect freedom of expression and the press" and denounced the "criminalization of journalistic work." In the Central American country, the group 'They will not silence us' has been created, made up of journalists, who have come to demonstrate in front of the Court Tower to demand that the Government protect the life and safety of Zamora, who is being held in the The same prison in which politicians and businessmen accused and convicted of corruption who were protagonists of the publications of El Periódico are deprived of their liberty.

This Wednesday the trial will resume with the final conclusions of Zamora's defense and, later, both the founder of El Periódico and Samari Gómez will be able to have the last word, before the Eighth Criminal Sentencing Court, presided over by Judge Oly González dictates sentence. In all probability, she will be convicted, taking into account that the former financial manager of El Periódico, Flora Silva, accepted charges in this same case, for which she was sentenced to six years in prison and a fine of 300,000 quetzales. However, by accepting her guilt in the crime of laundering money or other assets, Silva, who had been incarcerated since August 19, was able to regain her freedom, since the judge reduced her sentence to 3 years in prison, commutable for a fine of 150,000 quetzales (18,750 euros) and compensate the State with 30,000 quetzales (3,750 euros).

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