US House Must Investigate, Hold Accountable the State Department

Open Letter to Speaker McCarthy, Leader Scalise, and Chairs Comer, Jordan, McCaul

Spokesman Price mentions Zamora has been held in pretrial detention since July 2022. (@SinCortapisa_)

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The Honorable Kevin McCarthy                                              The Honorable Steve Scalise
Speaker of the House                                                               Majority Leader

The Honorable James Comer                                                  The Honorable Jim Jordan
Chairman                                                                                    Chairman
Committee on Oversight and Accountability                       Committee on the Judiciary

The Honorable Michael McCaul
Chairman
Committee on Foreign Affairs

March 9, 2023

Dear Mr. Speaker and Leaders of the House,

The US State Department (DOS) is slandering Guatemala to hide its own crimes. The undersigned US citizens reject DOS’s betrayal of US values and laws and urge you to investigate, beginning with Guatemala, DOS weaponization of the US government abroad.

DOS’s latest meddling in Guatemala, since 2021, exhibits arrogance from being drunk on power. Effectively immune on account of weak or ineffective congressional oversight for so long, DOS has become brazenly criminal.

This letter is a challenge to Congress to investigate DOS actions. What follows is a sample of DOS arrogance that invites scrutiny.

DOS Spokesman Ned Price issued a press statement on March 2, 2023, characterizing a Guatemalan court order as “criminalization of independent journalists.” Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Brian Nichols tweeted: “We urge the Government of Guatemala to take immediate steps to stop the persecution of journalists.”

A court had ordered investigations of individuals to determine if they had obstructed justice regarding the ongoing case against José Rubén Zamora. Price’s and Nichols’s accusations lack specifics and imply the court is acting illegally. Evidence suggests otherwise.

Zamora, the owner of the newspaper ElPeriódico, was arrested on July 29, 2022, on charges of extortion, money laundering, and influence peddling. Guatemalan authorities caught Zamora’s employees delivering $39,000 in cash in exchange for a check from someone Zamora had recruited to disguise the money’s source.

Nichols expressed concern on July 30, not out of a desire for balanced journalism but to protect his crooked ally Zamora. The Prosecutor General Office (PGO) replied that Zamora’s rights had been respected and witnessed by the human rights ombudsman and that the charges were unrelated to journalism. The nonprofit Liga Pro-Patria rebuked Nichols’s statement as a distortion of the case.

The PGO took the unusual step of asking the court to unseal the case. This can complicate an ongoing investigation and favor the defense, but Zamora appears to have been caught red-handed. At his initial hearing in an apparent attempt to intimidate the judge, Zamora asserted his close relationship with the US embassy and that he had acted as an intermediary.

Former Guatemalan Congressman Luis Hernández subsequently filed suit against Zamora and the former head of the PGO’s special branch against impunity, Juan Francisco Sandoval. Hernández alleged the two had attempted to extort him. Hernández said Sandoval provided confidential information that Zamora threatened to publish if his targets refused to pay up.

This is the same Sandoval that DOS honored in February 2021 with an ad hoc “Anti-Corruption Champion Award.” DOS also sanctioned Prosecutor General Consuelo Porras after she fired Sandoval on July 23, 2021, and he fled to the United States that same day.

Much public evidence indicates Sandoval has committed numerous crimes, such as coercing false witness testimony, and there are several outstanding arrest warrants against him. That makes him a fugitive. Yet Secretary Blinken wrote Sandoval a personal letter of praise on May 9, 2022, for his “dedication to fighting corruption” and added by hand, “With appreciation for your leadership.”

Perhaps of most interest to the US Congress, Sandoval obstructed an investigation into money laundering of USAID money that was referred to the PGO by the US Department of Homeland Security. Sandoval also illegally granted civil releases to Odebrecht for Guatemala’s $384 million claim against it.

Zamora’s prosecution has a recording of former prosecutor Samari Gómez, praised by Nichols, sharing then-sealed case information with Sandoval. He was in Washington, DC, under DOS protection.

Spokesman Price mentions Zamora has been held in pretrial detention since July 2022. The implication is that this violates Zamora’s rights. Yet contrast this with US citizen Anthony Segura, one of the undersigned. He spent four years in pretrial detention, in violation of the law. Segura says DOS was responsible for the persecution against him through the corrupt judges and prosecutors it worked with, including Sandoval.

DOS ignored Porras’s two offers to clarify her reasons for firing Sandoval. DOS has also not responded to Representative Chris Smith’s April 6, 2022, urging of DOS Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman to accept Porras’s offer and share the information. Antony Blinken has similarly not responded to Smith’s April 28, 2022, request to confirm the authenticity of a DOS document on how to prevent Porras’s reappointment as prosecutor general.

Former Zamora attorney Mario Castañeda pleaded guilty last month and was sentenced to three years in prison for obstruction of justice in a 2013 case against Zamora for money laundering. ElPeriódico‘s chief financial officer, Flora Silva, was accused last year of the same charges as Zamora. She became a state witness, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to three years in prison. Under Guatemalan law, this is evidence against Zamora.

DOS appears concerned that Zamora could turn on it and reveal damaging information about its personnel and agents. DOS’s hope now is to discredit Guatemala’s authorities and get one of its allies elected president this June. The new president could bury the case and all other evidence against DOS and its criminal cabal.

The Zamora case is the tip of the iceberg of DOS betrayal of the United States. Just as the case leads to Sandoval, the entire DOS criminal structure could unravel if properly investigated. DOS has thumbed its nose at Congress and at the executive branch to which it belongs and has weaponized our government against DOS political targets. Congress should provide oversight and protect US values by investigating DOS.

Sincerely,

Anaité Alvarado
Virginia de la Torre
Anabella Edwards
Steven Hecht
David Landau
Robert G. Mullins, CW4, US Army (ret.)
Karen E. Ness, Sociologist, US Navy veteran
Steve Reilly
Anthony Segura
Nora Segura
Oscar A. Segura

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