July 24, 2021

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) -Guatemalan anti-graft fighter Juan Francisco Sandoval fled the country early on Saturday, the country’s human rights ombudsman said, only hours after being fired in a move that sparked international outrage.

Sandoval, who had led the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) until Friday, fled to the Salvadoran border in the wee hours of Saturday, Jordan Rodas, country’s human rights ombudsman said.

“The decision was made to safeguard his life,” Rodas told Reuters.

Guatemala’s Attorney General Maria Porras removed the internationally known graft prosecutor from his post on Friday, prompting U.S. criticism that the move was a setback to the rule of law.

The unit was originally created to tackle investigations spearheaded by the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which was ousted from the country in 2019.

Sandoval’s removal sparked a backlash from U.S. officials, including Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Attorney General Porras’s firing of anti-corruption champion Juan Francisco Sandoval is an outrageous move,” she wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

Guatemalan civil society organizations say they are planning demonstrations on Saturday afternoon to protest Sandoval’s ouster and departure.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala CityWriting by Laura GottesdienerEditing by Matthew Lewis and Diane Craft)