Guatemala: “I could not be part of an institution run by such corruption”

Andrei González

Throughout his work at the Public Prosecutor's Office, Andrei González remained committed to transparency and personal integrity. But his opponents did not. As he refused to give in to corruption, Andrei was forced to resign from the judiciary and even to flee his country.

Why did you choose the law as a profession, and what were your expectations when you started out?

My mother always wanted to be a lawyer, she influenced me. Looking back, I remember that injustice bothered me from a very early age. I grew up in a fairly remote part of the city where day-to-day injustices were commonplace. I wanted to find a way to help victims.

When I started working at the Public Ministry, it became clear to me that I would be a public servant, and that as such, my obligation was to serve the population. I was very passionate about investigating crimes to get true justice for victims.

How and when did you become aware of corruption in the Guatemalan judicial system?

That was in 2012 when I started working at the anti-corruption prosecutor's office. There had been many accusations of corruption against the staff, and the then Attorney General Claudia Paz had responded by recruiting new staff for about 90% of the positions there. I was 24 years old, very young to start at such a position, and the allegations against some of the staff in the office, made me doubt.

As my work progressed, I realised that corruption is a phenomenon that affects all parts of the system - that is, the prosecutor’s office, but also the judicial system. As we met with colleagues with similar experiences and observations, I became fully aware of the extent of the problem.

And how did you manage to continue doing your job within a corrupt judicial system?

In a corrupt system, the majority of the people who behave illegally do so because they are pushed and convinced to do so. I remain very committed to personal transparency and integrity, the core values ​​that were instilled in me at home, and I believe that if individuals live their values, it is very difficult to pressure them to behave illegally.

I was also extremely fortunate to work with good prosecutors within the Public Ministry. My immediate superiors have always sought to fight for justice and against impunity, so at no time did they suggest that I commit any crime. This allowed me to continue developing my work properly, without any kind of pressure from the office.

What were the personal consequences of continuing your work at the prosecutor's office?

If many prosecutors are engaged in corrupt practices, a prosecutor who gains a reputation for wanting to do the right thing will be isolated professionally and personally. This situation will eventually influence people outside the office as well, which greatly increases the risks that these prosecutors face in their work. This is what prompted me to resign as a prosecutor in 2019 and led to my subsequent departure from Guatemala.

Can you tell us a bit more about your decision to leave Guatemala? How did the situation escalate to the point when you felt this was necessary?

I left Guatemala on 15 October 2019. I oversaw an investigation against the presidential candidate Sandra Julieta Torres Casanova, for the crimes of illegal electoral financing and unlawful association, and I saw how the current Attorney General Consuelo Porras protected her so that she could run in the 2019 presidential elections.

It was quite difficult for me, because in all the time I worked at the Public Ministry I had never seen someone so blatantly protected from being criminally prosecuted. I absolutely could not continue to be part of an institution run by such corruption.

I thought that resigning from the institution would be enough, but in the days and weeks that followed the threats and harassment against me increased significantly. This is what finally led me to leave the country.

Given your experience and the current situation in Guatemala, what advice would you give to those who want to study law and work in public institutions?

I would like to recall the encouraging achievements of the Public Ministry prior to the arrival of Attorney General Consuelo Porras in 2018. I saw first-hand how strong and committed leadership transformed the organisation, and how this led us to believe that Guatemala was on a very good path.

I would advise those considering a career in law to study hard to be able to excel in their future roles. But the most important thing is to keep your values: to be transparent, to have integrity and to seek justice.

When you enter university or start working in a judicial institution, your commitment will often be overshadowed by other interests. There are actors who have been in these institutions for a long time, some of whom are not committed to justice and others who just want to earn their salary. We must be the difference.

Part 1: “Corruption of the justice system is an open secret” (Juan Francisco Sandoval Díaz)

Part 2: “Armed men came looking for me at court” (Claudia Escobar)