Guatemala 'bishop killer' accused of running organized crime from prison

A former army captain convicted of killing Bishop Juan Gerardi ran a massive bribery ring from prison, according to Guatemala's anti-impunity commission. 

Jorge Dan Lopez/REUTERS
Byron Lima Oliva, former captain in the Guatemalan Army, arrives for a hearing at the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala City, September 3, 2014. Lima Oliva was sentenced in 2001 to 20 years in prison for the death of Bishop Juan Gerardi, who was killed in 1998.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, The views expressed are the author's own.

Guatemalan authorities, with the help of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), arrested Byron Lima Oliva (an army captain serving time for the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi) and Edgar Camargo, director of the Guatemalan Penitentiary System this week. Mr. Camargo was arrested on charges of conspiracy, bribery, and conspiracy to launder money. Twelve other individuals were also implicated in the organized crime racket, although it is not clear if they were all arrested.

Lima, on the other hand, is the big catch.

Prosecutors said Wednesday that Byron Lima Oliva took money from other inmates in return for favors such as prohibited cellphones and appliances, as well as special food and conjugal visits."

Lima represents for many of the inmates the true authority, and so they turn to him to seek transfers, favors and rights. Lima Oliva exerts undoubtable influence in the penitentiary system," Ivan Velasquez, head of the U.N. International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala told reporters.

CICIG's Ivan Velasquez, Attorney General Thelma Aldana, and Interior Secretary Mauricio Lopez Bonilla announced that the investigation into Lima's actions in prison was launched last year. If you remember, Lima was apprehended last February while going to the dentist [he left prison for longer than he was authorized to do so]. He seemed to have been able to come and go from the prison whenever he desired. Perhaps he was traveling in his Porsche, Jaguar, or armored Land Rover to one of the many properties he acquired while in prison? Maybe even his beach property, which Lima says that Mr. Lopez Bonilla has visited.

How did Lima respond to the charges?

Reached by phone, Lima denied the allegations and said he is the target of a vendetta by government officials because he prevented extortion and other crimes in the prison.

"They are looking for revenge because I did not let them put an inmate in this place ... whom they wanted to assassinate," Lima told The Associated Press.

The possible fallout?

Lima, 44, has boasted in the past of having a friendship with current President Otto Perez Molina, also a former soldier, and says he had campaign T-shirts printed for the 2011 election. On Wednesday, he said he also provided the campaign with money from businessmen, delivered through Lopez Bonilla.

The president's office declined to comment Wednesday.

When Lima was taken into custody last February, he and his entourage were traveling in vehicles used by the Patriotic Party during their 2011 campaign.

If Lima built this empire over the last fifteen years, as has been alleged, there are hundreds of people, perhaps more, complicit in this single case.

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