Judge orders Guatemalan newspaper chief to stand trial

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FILE – Award-winning journalist Jose Ruben Zamora, who was arrested the day before, stands inside a cell after a court hearing, in Guatemala City, Saturday, July 30, 2022. The prominent Guatemalan investigative newspaper “El Periodico” announced on Nov. 30, 2022 that it is stopping its print edition, after the government arrested Zamora, the paper’s president. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — The director of a Guatemalan investigative newspaper will stand trial on charges of money laundering, influence peddling and blackmail, a judge ruled Thursday.

José Rubén Zamora of El Periodico has been held for four months amid criticism that his arrest was politically motivated by an administration interested in silencing critical journalists.

Prosecutors accuse Zamora of asking a friend to deposit a $38,000 donation to hide the source of the funds. Zamora has said the money from a donor who wished to remain anonymous was to keep the newspaper running during a financial crisis after the government pulled its advertising.

Zamora’s family members have said various business people had been harassed and pressured to stop buying advertising in the newspaper. El Periodico gained a reputation for hard-hitting investigations into government corruption, including the administration of President Alejandro Giammattei.

El Periodico was forced to stop publishing a printed edition Nov. 30 due to its financial difficulties.

Before Thursday’s hearing, El Periodico’s financial director, Flora Silva, pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced to six years in prison with three years commuted for admitting wrongdoing.

During a recess, Zamora told reporters, “My best scenario is to get out (of prison) Jan. 14, 2024, when Giammattei leaves the presidency. I have patience and the truth on my side.”

The United States and international human rights groups have been critical of the deterioration of judicial independence in Guatemala. More than 30 judges, prosecutors and other members of the legal system have fled into exile to avoid prosecutions.

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