José Rubén Zamora Marroquín, president of the Guatemalan newspaper elPeriódico, is in pretrial detention for alleged money laundering, blackmail, and influence peddling. Police arrested Zamora on July 29, 2022, and raided elPeriódico’s offices.
Zamora, one of Guatemala’s most high-profile investigative journalists with a career spanning more than 30 years, has faced repeated threats and attacks for his decades of reporting on corruption and human rights violations. He co-founded multiple news outlets, including the daily newspaper Siglo Veintiuno in 1990, and elPeriódico, a Guatemala City-based daily newspaper that regularly covers politics and corruption in 1996.
Zamora has received numerous awards for his reporting, including the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University and CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, both in 1995.
Zamora was arrested at his home in Guatemala City on charges including money laundering, blackmail, and influence peddling. In the days between his arrest and initial hearing, Zamora’s lawyers did not have access to documents detailing his charges, according to news reports.
On August 1, prosecutors ordered the seizure of elPeriódico’s bank accounts, according to news reports. On August 19, police arrested the publication’s financial manager, Flora Silva, in connection with the money laundering investigation.
The publication’s staff denounced the actions as retaliation for its recent reporting on allegations of corruption in the administration of President Alejandro Giammattei, as well as reporting on Attorney General Consuelo Porras.
Zamora’s son José Zamora told CPJ by phone in September that there is a long history of lawsuits and other attempts by officials to intimidate his father and elPeriódico’s reporters and that he believes the criminal proceedings against his father are retaliation for the outlet’s reporting on Giammattei.
The case against Zamora comes amid a broader crackdown by the Guatemalan state on prosecutors and anti-corruption investigators, according to reports and human rights organizations.
Zamora and elPeriódico staff have been the targets of lawsuits and harassment from public officials for years, and Zamora has survived multiple attempts on his life.
In 2003, a group of heavily armed people who identified themselves as investigators from the public prosecutor’s office entered his home and held him and his family hostage at gunpoint, threatened to execute him, and told the family they would kill him if they reported the attack. In 2008, he survived a kidnapping attempt in which he was severely beaten and left unconscious in the town of Chimaltenango, where he was found and taken to the hospital by the local fire department.
Multiple officials filed criminal suits against Zamora and his colleagues under Guatemala’s Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women, alleging elPeriódico’s coverage caused them psychological damage, including then Vice President Roxana Baldetti in 2013, Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel in 2018, and the daughter of the president of Guatemala’s Constitutional Court in May 2021.
Zamora’s initial court hearing, scheduled for August 1, 2022, was suspended because the court did not receive the necessary documents about the case, and it was rescheduled multiple times.
On August 9, a judge in a Guatemala City court ordered Zamora to remain in pretrial detention while prosecutors moved forward with a criminal investigation. Judge Freddy Orellana said there was “reasonable suspicion” that Zamora had been involved in the alleged crimes, ordered prosecutors to present evidence by November 9, and set the next hearing in the case for December 8, according to reports.
Under Guatemalan law, the crime of money laundering is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and a fine, and blackmail is punishable by up to eight years in prison.
Zamora is held in the Mariscal Zavala prison at a military base in northern Guatemala City. He is generally in good health, but family members are concerned for his safety because the prison also houses several individuals accused of corruption that have been the subjects of elPeriodico’s reporting, his son José told CPJ.
CPJ’s emails and calls to the Guatemalan prosecutor’s office in late 2022 received no replies.