MEXICO CITY–The Guatemala attorney general’s office confirmed on Saturday the arrest of congressman Julio Juarez Ramirez, who is accused of plotting the murders of two journalists in 2015.
Prosecutors and investigators with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala said the politician orchestrated an attack on journalists Danilo Efraín Zapón López and Federico Benjamín Salazar Gerónimo, who were killed in March 2015.
Juarez was arrested on Saturday morning near his home in the southern district of Suchitepéquez and transferred to Guatemala City, the capital of the Central American nation. He maintained his innocence as he reported to court on Saturday afternoon.
“He who owes nothing fears nothing, that’s why I’m here in the name of God, who will clear up everything,” Juarez told reporters. “Talk to the press of Suchitepéquez and you will realize that I never, never had problems with the press.”
Juarez served as mayor of the southern city of San Antonio La Union from 2012 to 2015, before winning a seat in Congress the next year. According to investigators, Zapon, who was a journalist for the newspaper Prensa Libre, was attacked because he was working on a story about corruption in the Juarez’s administration.
On Dec. 21, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Juarez under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act for his alleged role in the attack on the journalists.
The Treasury’s website stated, “Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez (Juarez) is a Guatemalan Congressman accused of ordering an attack in which two journalists were killed and another injured. Guatemalan prosecutors and a UN-sponsored commission investigating corruption in Guatemala allege that Juarez hired hit men to kill Prensa Libre correspondent Danilo Efrain Zapan Lopez, whose reporting had hurt Juarez’s plan to run for reelection. Fellow journalist Federico Benjamin Salazar of Radio Nuevo Mundo was also killed in the attack and is considered a collateral victim. Another journalist was wounded in the attack.”
The sanctions were a result of executive order 13818 signed by President Trump, called ‘Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption.’ In an annex to the order, the President named 13 serious human rights abusers and corrupt actors who were to be sanctioned. Juarez was named as one of the 13 individuals engaged in malign activities.
Local media reported in 2015 that Juarez described himself as a friend of Zapon’s and admitted to meeting the journalist the day he was killed.
“That’s why they want to investigate me, but I am free of any involvement with him,” Juarez told local media.
By Sofia Menchu and Julia Love