Guatemala Asks For UN Probe Into Lawyer Killing

By: Juan Carlos Llorca, Associated Press Email
By: Juan Carlos Llorca, Associated Press Email

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) - A slain man's videotaped and posthumously broadcast accusation that President Alvaro Colom ordered his murder threw Guatemala into an uproar Tuesday and prompted government calls for a U.N. agency and the FBI to investigate the killing.

Colom vehemently denied the allegations made in a videotape left by lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, who was shot to death by unidentified assailants while riding his bicycle Sunday. But opposition lawmakers called for Colom to step aside while the killing is investigated.

"If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by President Alvaro Colom with help from Gustavo Alejos," the president's secretary, Rosenberg said in the video distributed at his funeral on Monday.

Guatemala City newspaper Prensa Libre said the recording "has created the greatest political crisis for this democracy, because never before has a democratically elected president been accused of murder."

Television stations repeatedly aired the video and so many people watched it on Guatemalan Internet sites that some temporarily collapsed. More than 5,300 people joined a Facebook group called "Guatemalans for the dismissal of Alvaro Colom."

On the video, Rosenberg says officials might want to kill him because he represented businessman Khalil Musa, who was slain in March along with his daughter. The lawyer is heard saying that Musa, who had been named to the board of the Guatemala's Rural Development Bank, was killed for refusing to get involved in purported illicit transactions at the bank.

The Guatemalan government is the majority shareholder in the bank.

Rosenberg said the alleged illicit transactions "range from money laundering to the embezzlement of public funds and nonexistent programs operated by first lady Sandra de Colom, as well as the financing of front companies used by drug traffickers."

Luis Mendizabal, a friend of Rosenberg, said he distributed 150 copies of the video that the slain lawyer had given him while he was alive.

The center-left Colom - who took office in January - went on national television to dismiss the accusations and demand an outside investigation.

"First of all, I am not a murderer. Second, I am not a drug trafficker, and everything he says there is totally senseless," Colom said.

He said his government has requested the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala to investigate "to clear up this matter." The U.N. commission was created in 2007 to clean up corruption in Guatemala.

Colom said he also talked to U.S. ambassador Stephen McFarland to ask the FBI to probe Rosenberg's slaying. The U.S. embassy did not confirm this request nor said if the FBI would participate in the investigation.

Otto Perez, secretary-general of the leading opposition faction, the Patriot Party, called on Colom to step aside during the investigation.

Outside the presidential palace, family and friends of Rosenberg protested his killing.

Helen Mack, a human rights activist and director of the Myrna Mack Foundation, said the accusation moves the country toward an institutional crisis.

"Congress, the supreme court, the constitutional court and all the other institutions are being questioned, and now there emerges this serious allegation against the executive in chief."

Colom's election win gave Guatemala its first leftist leader since Jacobo Arbenz was thrown out of office in 1954 by a CIA-orchestrated coup.

Colom, who led Guatemala's efforts to coax thousands of refugees back home after its civil war ended, had promised to fight poverty, help indigenous communities and bring security to a country where gangs behead victims and drug traffickers control much of the police forces.

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