By Sofia Menchu
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice said on Tuesday it has suspended Judge Pablo Xitumul, who is known for his fight against corruption and handling high-profile cases against the military and former government officials.
The decision comes a day after the prominent Judge Erika Aifan resigned from the post and fled into exile to the United States, alleging persecution over her work as a renowned anti-corruption figure in the institution.
“This was an orchestrated plan to get judge Aifan and me out. I’m calm, we expected this and I am in Guatemala,” Xitumul told Reuters by phone.
Xitumul and Aifan have both worked as judges in the country’s so-called “high risk” courts, which were created after the CICIG, a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission; and they both pushed for reforms to investigate organized crime and corruption.
CICIG was shuttered in 2019 under the government of former President Jimmy Morales who refused to renew its mandate, effectively kicking the organization out of the country.
Xitumul’s suspension comes after a police officer filed a complaint against him stating he wanted to inspect his vehicle and he apparently objected, according to the document published by the Court. His suspension includes the right to salary while authorities investigate.
The judge told a local television station that the police stopped him for no reason.
In 2018, Xitumul sentenced former Vice President Roxana Baldetti to 15 years of prison for fraud, illicit association and mismanagement of public resources in the case known as “Agua Magica.”
He also sentenced Efrain Rios Montt, former leader of Guatemala, to 80 years for genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013.
Throughout his career Xitumul also convicted multiple military officials for massacres that occurred at the time of Guatemala’s civil war.
Xitumul was among the judges who denounced recent reports of persecution and harassment from unidentified armed individuals before the Public Ministry in June.
The judge said there was nothing against him that has any merit in a court of law. “I trust my colleagues, but not the Attorney General’s Office,” he added.
Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras is an ally of current conservative President Alejandro Giammattei. Rights groups have accused his administration of trying to stymie the anti-corruption efforts by the courts.
On Tuesday morning, Giammattei released a statement on Twitter, saying “My administration remains fully committed to adhering to the rule of law and keeping all members of the judiciary safe from threats and harm.”
So far this year, at least 10 justice figures have fled the country to the United States due to the cases opened against those who worked on CICIG cases.
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Valentine Hilaire; Editing by Aurora Ellis)