GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A prominent Guatemalan journalist’s initial hearing before a judge was suspended Wednesday when the judge announced that the defendant’s lawyers were also targets of the government’s investigation.
Following the hearing, José Rubén Zamora, president of the newspaper El Periodico, said that the case “is a set-up effectively designed and mounted by the president, attorney general and other people.”
Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ office arrested Zamora on a charge of money laundering, but during Wednesday’s hearing Zamora and his lawyers were also accused of extortion.
The new allegation meant Zamora’s lawyers could no longer defend their client from something they themselves were accused of.
“Ethically it is not appropriate,” said Romeo Montoya, one of Zamora’s lawyers.
The extortion accusation came from businessman Ronald Navarijo García, who himself had previously been arrested on corruption charges for allegedly colluding with directors of Banco de los Trabajadores, or the Workers’ Bank, to embezzle its funds. Navarijo is under house arrest and his trial has not been scheduled.
Navarijo alleges Zamora extorted him for about $25,000 to influence the case against him.
Zamora said he recently met with Navarijo. In that meeting, he said, Navarijo told him that prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, who is prosecuting Zamora, asked Navarijo for 15% of the more than $4.2 million that the Attorney General’s Office has frozen in the businessman's case.
Zamora added that Navarijo told him that Curruchiche asked for something else, too: that Navarijo report “people who were bothersome for the Attorney General’s Office and the regime.”
The journalist was arrested at his home Friday by agents and police armed with assault rifles. Authorities also raided the printing presses for El Periodico.
Press freedom groups have complained about the arrest of the award-winning Zamora. Critics of President Alejandro Giammattei’s administration say his arrest is an attempt to silence a prominent critic whose newspaper was known for investigations uncovering corruption and a powerful message to other voices of dissent in Guatemala.
The U.S. government has sanctioned Guatemala's attorney general as well as Curruchiche, who Porras put in charge of corruption investigations, for allegedly being involved in corruption themselves.