PART 1: MURDER BY DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY
In October 2016, a squad of officers under orders of the UN “anti-corruption commission” and its handmaiden, Guatemala’s justice ministry, raided a private residence in order to carry out an arrest-and-search in a case of suspected money laundering.
The UN commission, known by its Spanish acronym CICIG, had gained its charter a decade earlier to work with Guatemala’s justice ministry (MP) in eradicating extra-legal, clandestine organizations that might threaten democratic and civic freedoms. In its ten years – as this case and numerous others show – the CICIG has strayed far from its founding mission.
In this raid upon a private residence, the threat to freedom actually came from the pretended remedy – the CICIG’s own activity – which bids fair to be called murder by diplomatic immunity.
On October 28, 2016, armed officers of the CICIG and the MP executed an arrest-and-search warrant at a residence in a gated community of the capital city. The target was a certain Ronald Giovanni García Navarijo, one of seven suspects in a banking fraud and money- laundering scheme.
Well before 6 a.m., armed officers took control of the gated community in which the target residence was located. By law, all residences are inviolable between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.; so that when armed officers burst into the home, they were sensibly presumed to be criminals and not law-enforcement officers.
Someone inside the home, sensibly enough, took up a defensive posture. A gun battle ensued, and the occupant was killed. Twitter published reports of the shooting at 5:40 and 5:42 a.m., time-stamps that proved unlawful entry.
The major illegality was that officers had killed the wrong man. The deceased was not the subject of the warrant at all; he was Pavel Centeno, an attorney and former Guatemalan finance minister.
The legal process
Five days later, November 2, the Foundation Against Terrorism in Guatemala, a nonprofit group, filed a criminal complaint against CICIG commissioner Iván Velásquez, as well as against MP personnel involved in the botched operation.
A court ordered the MP to investigate. Three weeks later, on November 22, the MP moved to quash the order on grounds that Velásquez and the CICIG could not be charged because they were protected by diplomatic immunity.
The CICIG likewise refused the summons, pointing to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Immunity and saying the matter could only be raised in diplomatic channels.
On November 23 the court agreed with the CICIG and the MP; it freed Velásquez and other CICIG personnel from judgment in the case.
Regarding Centeno himself, the MP ruled his death a suicide and moved to dismiss the matter – effectively saying that no crime had occurred.
Apart from the MP’s obvious interest in squelching the matter, its claim was shot full of holes, as it were, by the National Institute of Forensic Sciences, which reported that two bullets had entered the dead man’s body; one in the right arm, the other in the head.
Photos of the cadaver showed Centeno’s left hand holding a bullet clip. That gave him no means to shoot himself in the head – while casings from police-caliber weapons were found all over the scene.
A year after the shooting, October 31, 2017, the Foundation Against Terrorism was notified that the court had scheduled a hearing for November 15 to consider its complaint against the MP. This hearing was subsequently postponed to early 2018.
The MP had a legal obligation to know who was actually living at the home it had targeted with its warrant. As late as the moment at which the strike force took control of the community gate, it could have established that the subject of the warrant did not live in the residence; and that Pavel Centeno was the actual occupant.
According to reports, Centeno’s wife Nathalie Devaux said the officers detained her and her children for several hours without identifying themselves, and without explaining why they had occupied her home by force of arms.
Together with the illegal timing of the raid, the failure of law-enforcement officers to identify themselves would explain why Centeno resisted; he simply presumed that the attackers were criminals.
From publicly available information, it is not possible to determine with certainty how Centeno died. But numerous elements point to an official cover-up and denial of a crime.
The facts of the case could still lead to criminal charges against ministry personnel. The circumstances require the justice minister to name a special prosecutor, but the minister has not done so.
Even if one were to accept the claim of suicide, there remain serious errors by the authorities that would warrant a special prosecutor. Some of those are: faulty intelligence regarding the subject of the warrant; assaulting a residence at an hour prohibited by law; officers not properly identifying themselves before invading the residence; and shell-casings of police- caliber weapons which indicate that the victim was fired upon by the invading officers.
The proverbial gorilla-in-the-room is the unauthorized, unethical and lethal participation of the UN commission in an event that has the look of state-sanctioned murder.
While justice ministry personnel are subject to investigation and prosecution, CICIG personnel are free of those restraints due to their diplomatic immunity. Even so – or especially so – the CICIG’s involvement in this case raises questions that cry out for independent evaluation.
As matters now stand, no one can deprive the CICIG of its main weapon: the blanket diplomatic immunity in which the commission’s members regularly cloak their actions. In August 2017 President Morales got on the right track when he declared CICIG commissioner Velásquez unwelcome in Guatemala, under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that allows any chief executive to declare any diplomat, for any reason, persona non grata.
In a world that actually honored the concepts of sovereignty and diplomacy, the president’s persona non grata order would have gained the respect it deserved. But in the feral conditions that now prevail, the president’s order incited protest outside the country; while Guatemala’s Constitutional Court immediately, and in violation of the Constitution, vetoed the expulsion of the CICIG commissioner.
At present, the CICIG is a hostile sovereign entity that threatens Guatemala from within. Not even the country’s chief executive is permitted to restrain the CICIG, or to counter its runaway power.
Now more than ever, Guatemalans need an institutional remedy against an “anti-corruption commission” which has despoiled their freedoms, has taken life wantonly, and has redoubled the chaos and lawlessness of their society.
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