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UN-backed prosecutor: Guatemala impeding justice

The head of a special U.N.-backed commission prosecuting high crimes in Guatemala accused the government Wednesday of sabotaging efforts to bring back a former interior minister on charges of ordering extrajudicial killings of prison inmates.

Guatemala's institutions "are working to make justice impossible and to let impunity continue to reign," Francisco Dall'Anese said in an e-mail, responding to questions from The Associated Press.

Dall'Anese, a former Costa Rican attorney general, heads the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, a 25-nation team of prosecutors and police investigators battling the rampant organized crime that has this Central American country teetering on the edge of failed-state status.

In its most politically charged case since it was created three years ago at Guatemala's request, CICIG brought extrajudicial execution charges against the former interior minister, Carlos Vielmann, and several other members of the country's business and political elite.

Spain arrested Vielmann on Oct. 13 and Guatemala had until Tuesday to present its extradition request so the former minister would remain in jail. But the request did not arrive in time.

Dall'Anese told the AP that "Guatemala's Foreign Ministry held some of the papers without reason for 14 days and didn't send them to Madrid."

On Tuesday, a Spanish judge freed Vielmann from prison.

Spain can still extradite Vielmann — it has until Dec. 13 — but Dall'Anese said he wasn't confident that would happen.

"The way justice moves in Guatemala, there won't be time for the documentation to get to Madrid," he said.

The Foreign Ministry denied intentionally delaying the extradition request. In a statement on its website, it blamed the delay on what it said was a requirement to legalize certain signatures with the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City.

On television later, Vice President Rafael Espada said that "there will be a thorough investigation" to determine who was at fault for the delay in shipping the documents.

Dall'Anese also decried a decision by Guatemala's Constitutional Court last Friday to provisionally suspend the extradition on a technicality. Human rights activists have denounced the timing of court's ruling as suspiciously beneficial to Vielmann's defense strategy.

Dall'Anese called the decision "unmotivated by anything and without a single sentence of explanation."

Because CICIG works within Guatemala's judicial system, it depends wholly on the country's courts and institutions to bring to justice the cases it develops.

The case against Vielmann accuses him of the summary executions of 10 prison inmates in 2006.

Three were prison escapees allegedly hunted down and murdered, while seven were killed inside Pavon prison outside the capital, Guatemala City. The seven were found dead after thousands of police and soldiers stormed the prison, retaking it from inmates who ran a crack-cocaine lab inside. Vielmann has said the prisoners died while putting up a fight.

The Vielmann case has put CICIG to its biggest test yet.

Former Guatemala Vice President Eduardo Stein, who held office from 2004 to 2008 and helped bring the agency to Guatemala, has accused it of "going out of control" in the Vielmann case. Stein and other businessmen have argued that the commission — whose head is named by the U.N. secretary-general — has overstepped its mandate and even operated outside the law.

Commission officials vehemently deny the accusations.

Dall'Anese, who as Costa Rica's attorney general put two former presidents in jail for corruption, was named head of the commission in June after CICIG's founder, Spanish magistrate Carlos Castresana, angrily resigned.

Castresana said he did so because President Alvaro Colom insisted on naming as attorney general a man whom Castresana had vetoed as corrupt.

Several weeks after Castresana announced he was quitting, the attorney general was fired.

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Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.