Guatemalan Journalist Calls Accusations Against Him ‘Set Up’

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CITY OF GUATEMALA — The initial hearing of a prominent Guatemalan journalist before a judge was adjourned Wednesday when the judge announced that lawyers for the accused were also targeted by the government investigation.

At the end of the hearing, José Rubén Zamora, president of the newspaper El Periodico, said that the case “is a set-up actually designed and put together by the president, the attorney general and other people”.

Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ office arrested Zamora for money laundering, but at Wednesday’s hearing, Zamora and his lawyers were also charged with extortion.

The new allegation meant Zamora’s lawyers could no longer defend their client against something they themselves were accused of.

“Ethically it’s not appropriate,” said Romeo Montoya, one of Zamora’s lawyers.

The extortion charge 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 that Zamora extorted approximately $25,000 from him to influence the case against him.

Zamora said he recently met Navarijo. At that meeting, he said, Navarijo told him that prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, who is prosecuting Zamora, had asked Navarijo for 15% of the more than $4.2 million that the attorney general’s office had frozen in the case of the businessman.

Zamora added that Navarijo told him that Curruchiche also asked for something else: that Navarijo report “people who are troublesome to the attorney general’s office and the regime.”

The journalist was arrested at his home on Friday by officers and police armed with assault rifles. Authorities also raided printing presses for El Periodico.

Press freedom groups have complained about the arrest of 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 his investigations exposing corruption and a powerful message to other dissenting voices in Guatemala.

The U.S. government sanctioned Guatemala’s attorney general as well as Curruchiche, whom Porras assigned to corruption investigations, for allegedly being involved in corruption themselves.

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