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Anti-graft Investigator Flees Guatemala to 'Safeguard His Life' 

FILE - Juan Francisco Sandoval, Guatemala's lead prosecutor against impunity, is pictured during an interview in Guatemala City, April 3, 2019.

Guatemala's top anti-graft investigator, Juan Francisco Sandoval, fled the country Saturday hours after he was fired, a move that sparked international backlash, a human rights official said.

Guatemalan Ombudsman Jordan Rodas accompanied Sandoval to the Salvadoran border "in light of the difficult decision to leave the country to safeguard his life and integrity due to recent events," according to the Central American country's human rights body.

Sandoval had been fired from his post as head of Guatemala's Prosecutor Against Corruption and Impunity (FECI) on Friday by Attorney General Consuelo Porras.

Sandoval said he had encountered many obstacles in his work at FECI and that he was told not to investigate President Alejandro Giammattei without the attorney general's consent, something he said went "against the autonomy and independence" of FECI.

The Attorney General's Office said he had been let go because of "constant abuses and frequent violations" of the institution and that attempts had been made to "undermine" the "work, integrity and dignity" of Porras.

His firing sparked criticism from the U.S. State Department, which has called him an "anti-corruption champion," as well as outcry from humanitarian groups, civil society and businesses.

Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, condemned Sandoval's sacking in a tweet on Friday, saying it was "a significant setback to rule of law."

"It contributes to perceptions of a systemic effort to undermine those known to be fighting corruption," she added.

The Center against Corruption and Impunity in the North of Central America also criticized Porras' decision, saying it would create "setbacks in the fight against corruption in the region."

FECI was initially created to work alongside the U.N. International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala to combat corruption and impunity, but the body's work was stopped in 2019 under a decision by then-President Jimmy Morales, after he was singled out by both entities for electoral corruption.