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US Expresses 'Deep Concern' About Guatemala Anti-corruption Backlash

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

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed "deep concern" Friday to his Guatemalan counterpart about efforts to abolish a leading anti-corruption unit in the attorney general's office, a U.S. spokesman said.

The call between Blinken and Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo took place ahead of a visit to Guatemala by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris starting Sunday. The Biden administration has made the fight against corruption a central plank of its foreign policy strategy.

"We are closely following the recent challenges to anti-corruption efforts in Guatemala," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

Guatemala's Special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity (FECI), led by prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval, has been hit with legal challenges in recent days seeking to declare it unconstitutional.

Sandoval receives vocal backing from Washington.

"The secretary expressed deep concern about any efforts to abolish anti-corruption offices, such as FECI," Price said.

Perceived agenda

President Alejandro Giammattei told Reuters this week that he believed FECI's chief had a left-wing agenda that affected his work. Giammattei said his government was committed to fighting corruption and that he would not interfere with the attorney general's office.

Giammattei said he was not involved in the pressure on FECI, despite himself having been imprisoned during a case Sandoval was involved in.

"The preservation of independent institutions that fight corruption and impunity is fundamental to addressing challenges to security, prosperity and governance in Guatemala," Price said.

In a statement, Brolo said the call was part of everyday communications with Washington. He emphasized Guatemala's "firm conviction" in strengthening institutions as a key part of fighting corruption and thanked the U.S. for its support.