Former Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti has received a 15-year prison sentence for her involvement in a fraudulent state contract to decontaminate a major lake. She was also accused of embezzling millions from the state fund set up to fund the decontamination. Judge Pablo Xitumul sentenced the 55-year-old Baldetti for illegal association, fraud and influence trafficking.
Baldetti and 12 other people were accused of conspiring to grant a contract to clean up Lake Amatitlan worth $18 million to M. Tarcic Engineering Ltd., a firm based in Israel. In what became known as the “Magic Water” scandal, the company claimed to have a special formula to clean the lake. An investigation uncovered that the solution consisted of just water, salt, and chlorine.
Baldetti was seen as the ringleader of the scheme. The deal was negotiated by her brother, Mario, who held no official post. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail. Also sentenced was the Israeli company’s representative, Uri Roitman, who received an 11-year sentence for fraud and illegal association.
Baldetti also faces drug trafficking charges in the United States. She has been accused, along with others, of conspiring to traffic cocaine to the US between 2010 and 2015. She will be extradited to the US after several cases against her in Guatemala have been resolved. She is also facing charges in a customs fraud scandal involving the payment of bribes by private companies to Guatemala’s customs service. Baldetti has denied wrongdoing.
Charges were brought against her thanks to an investigation backed by a UN crime fighting force called the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig). Anti-impunity campaigners are now battling to save the commission from expulsion by the current president. President Jimmy Morales, who was elected in 2015 on an anti-corruption platform, is fighting impeachment arising from multiple corruption allegations.
Morales has already banned the anti-corruption commission’s chief, Ivan Velasquez, from re-entering the country. He says that the action was not personally motivated.