Guatemalan journalist Jose Ruben Zamora Marroquin, the leading critic of the government headed by Alejandro Giammattei, was sentenced today June 14th to six years in prison for an alleged case of money laundering, in a process reported to be plagued with irregularities.
Zamora received a six-year sentence for money laundering, while he was acquitted of the crimes of blackmail and influence peddling, by a Court of the Guatemalan Judiciary, presided over by Judge Oly González.
The Guatemalan court argued its ruling indicating that, according to testimonies given during the trial, the journalist simulated a “commercial transaction” to give a “lawful appearance” to an amount of 300,000 quetzales ($38,000), whose origin “was not certain”.
The journalist, founder and president of the investigative outlet El Periódico, had reported corruption and bribery investigations involving President Giammattei, prior to his capture on July 29th of last year.
In a small room of the Guatemalan judicial body, packed with dozens of journalists and human rights defenders, the sentence against Zamora was read.
The court explained that, according to its analysis, the journalist gave 300,000 quetzales to the former banker Ronald García Navarijio so that he could issue a check for that amount and thus be able to add it to an account of his media outlet to pay back salaries.
Acquittal on two charges
In addition, the judges decided to acquit Zamora of the crimes of blackmail and influence peddling, two crimes that the Public Ministry had charged him with.
“The Prosecutor’s Office failed to prove that the defendant committed the crime of blackmail and influence peddling,” said the court, adding that the accusation against Zamora did not determine the place and time where the crimes were allegedly committed.
After learning of the sentence, Zamora assured: “Despite the arbitrariness, I am happy because two crimes were withdrawn.”
Similarly, the journalist added that he continues “to be innocent and President Giammattei is a thief”, when questioned by journalists about the message he was sending to the country’s authorities.
The court acquitted former anti-corruption prosecutor Samari Gomez of the crimes of influence peddling, she had been accused by the Prosecutor’s Office of giving confidential information to Zamora, .
Former prosecutor Gomez will be able to leave prison immediately, according to the sentence read by the Court this Wednesday.
Conviction and anomalies
Zamora must serve a six-year prison sentence in the prison located in the Mariscal Zavala military barracks, in the north of Guatemala City, where there are dozens of former politicians whom the journalist accused of corruption in his newspaper.
During the criminal process that lasted 10 months, international organizations such as the Inter-American Press Association (SIP) warned that there were irregularities in the case.
The Guatemalan journalist was not allowed to present the documents that he submitted for his defense and his witnesses were not allowed to participate.
Zamora denounced that four of the lawyers who defended him during the process were accused and prosecuted by the Prosecutor’s Office and two others had to go into exile due to threats.
The journalist is also facing later in the month a charge of hindering criminal action and another for an alleged falsification of immigration documents.
Between 2018 and 2023, at least 30 journalists, judges and prosecutors in Guatemala have gone into exile, denouncing criminal persecution against them.