GUATEMALA CITY — A Guatemalan court has sentenced former vice president Roxana Baldetti to more than 15 years in prison for involvement in a fraudulent state contract with an Israeli firm.
According to local media reports, an Israeli businessman, Uri (Hugo) Roitman, was also reportedly sentenced to 11 years in prison for his role in the case.
A UN-backed anti-corruption commission accused Baldetti and 12 other people of conspiring to grant an $18 million contract to clean up Lake, close to Guatemala City, to Israel-based M. Tarcic Engineering Ltd., represented by Roitman.
The contract was to provide 93,000 liters of a special decontaminant, but investigators determined the company used a substance that was merely water, salt and chlorine.
Judge Pablo Xitumul on Tuesday imposed a 15 and 1/2 year sentence on the 55-year-old Baldetti for illegal association, fraud and influence trafficking. He called her “the big chief” of the plan.
Baldetti has consistently denied wrongdoing.
Media reports said Roitman was given an 11-year sentence on fraud and bribery charges. The court also ordered an additional investigation into possible money laundering offenses, reports said.
Roitman was arrested in 2016 on suspicion of bribing an official to secure a government contract to clean up Lake Amatitlan, which had become polluted by large quantities of untreated sewage and industrial effluent.
In March 2015, Guatemala’s then-vice president Baldetti suspended the project, froze payment and stopped use of the decontaminant after a wave of complaints from scientists, academia, politicians and environmentalists who raised questions about the contract.
Baldetti resigned in May 2015, after a United Nations anti-corruption probe led to the arrest of 24 people suspected of involvement in an import bribery scheme.
Guatemalan media reported that Roitman’s “winning formula” not only failed to improve conditions in the lake but allegedly made them worse.
Roitman has denied wrongdoing.
According to a 2016 Channel 10 report, the man who supplied the formula, Israeli Hanan Elraz, made headlines in 2013 when the Israeli Health Ministry issued a warning and an order to stop production of his vegetable-based cancer treatment kits. The ministry said the cream in the kit contained a substance which may pose a danger to public health.