Fugitive Guatemala Minister Surrenders Amid Attacks on Justice System

Alex Papadovassilakis writes in InSight Crime on the ‘spontaneous’ and ‘voluntary’ surrender of a high level fugitive, more than a year after he was charged with money laundering. A minister in the government of Jimmy Morales, he is wanted in connection with the seizure of cash, worth over USD $15M, in October 2020.

Corruption takes many turns and the fact that he turned himself in after the effective gutting of the anti-impunity office by the Attorney General is instructive. It is difficult to believe that the Attorney General’s office did not know where he was all along.

A fugitive former minister linked to a multi-million dollar cash seizure has turned himself over to Guatemalan authorities at an opportune time – after the anti-impunity unit investigating his case has been gutted.

José Luis Benito Ruiz, who surrendered January 21 at a courthouse just outside Guatemala City, had not been seen since the Attorney General’s Office charged him with money laundering more than a year ago. Benito Ruiz had been part of the cabinet of former President Jimmy Morales (2016-2020), serving as his minister of communications, infrastructure and housing.

The Attorney General’s Office charged Benito Ruiz with money laundering after the seizure of 122,351,456 quetzales (around $15.5 million) in October 2020. The cash was found in 22 suitcases inside a home that had been leased by Benito Ruiz, according to prosecutors from Guatemala’s anti-impunity unit (Fiscalía Especializada Contra la Impunidad – FECI), which conducted the seizure.

The former minister also faces fraud charges in a separate case. The charges relate to the construction of a major highway project while he was in office. Prosecutors accuse Benito Ruiz of signing off on a fraudulent public works contract that had been awarded to an engineering company as part of the project.

Handcuffed and facing a swarm of reporters on leaving the courthouse, Benito Ruiz told reporters that he had “spontaneously” and “voluntarily” turned himself in. When asked to explain his fifteen months on the run, he replied, “these are political questions.”

“We have to prepare ourselves emotionally and legally,” he added.

The former official, who is now awaiting a first appearance hearing, was appointed minister in 2018 by President Morales. Morales has also been linked to the highway corruption probe.

You can read the full piece, with links, here Fugitive Guatemala Minister Surrenders Amid Attacks on Justice System.

Categories: Corruption, Human Rights, Impunity, Justice

Tags: , ,

Post comments here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: