GUATEMALA CITY – Former Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison Tuesday for involvement in a fraudulent state contract to decontaminate a major lake.
Prosecutors backed by a U.N. anti-corruption commission accused Baldetti and 12 other people of conspiring to grant an $18 million contract to clean up Lake Amatitlan to Israel-based M. Tarcic Engineering Ltd.
The company said it had a special formula that could clean the lake within months. But investigators determined the company used a substance that was merely water, salt and chlorine.
Judge Pablo Xitumul read the 15 year and 6 month sentence on the 55-year-old Baldetti for illegal association, fraud and influence trafficking. He called her “the big chief” of the plan.
The Israeli company’s representative, Uri Roitman, was sentenced to 11 years for fraud and illegal association.
Baldetti has consistently denied wrongdoing. She resigned from the vice presidency in 2015 while facing corruption charges in a separate case. Former President Otto Perez Molina was forced to step down shortly afterward and remains in jail awaiting trial.
Baldetti also faces drug trafficking charges in the United States. A Guatemalan court last year approved a request to extradite her after several cases in Guatemala are resolved. The U.S. federal court indictment alleges Baldetti and others conspired to traffic cocaine to the U.S. between 2010 and 2015.
The sentence is an example of how the U.N.-backed anti-corruption commission has been able to help prosecutors reach the previously untouchable upper echelons of Guatemalan power.
President Jimmy Morales last month railed against the commission during a speech at the United Nations and has banned the commission’s chief, Ivan Velasquez, from re-entering the country.
Morales had earlier announced that the commission would not have its mission extended beyond its current mandate that ends in September 2019.
Guatemalan prosecutors with the commission’s support have three times sought to have Morales stripped of his immunity so that he can be investigated for alleged illicit campaign finance.