[Pages S7857-S7858]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]


  Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, yesterday the Government of Guatemala took 
a decisive step toward regaining sovereignty. Guatemala revoked the 
visas of and deported 11 U.N. personnel working for the International 
Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, better known by its Spanish 
acronym CICIG.
  Chartered in 2006 to help the Guatemalan state fight corruption, 
CICIG morphed into a modern-day United Nations proconsul, selectively 
administering justice and abusing power in ways never intended.
  Voices on the political left, both here and overseas, will no doubt 
decry the decision by the duly constituted Government of Guatemala. I 
take the floor of the Senate this afternoon to state plainly my 
emphatic approval of this action by our Guatemalan friends.
  Prior to yesterday's action, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales had 
previously announced that CICIG's mandate would not be renewed after 
September 3 of next year. The President's decision marks a logical and 
welcome step toward ending CICIG's presence in Guatemala. Ultimately, 
an independent country has the right to decide if, and under what 
terms, a supranational institution can administer justice within its 
borders. CICIG was never meant to be permanent, and no country could 
accept an unending infringement on its sovereignty. Certainly, we in 
the United States would never consent to having an international body--
accountable to no one--run our judicial system. Our Guatemalan friends 
have determined it is time for CICIG to leave, and they have a right as 
a sovereign nation to make that decision.
  The initial reasons behind CICIG's presence in Guatemala cannot be 
disputed. Like many Latin American countries, Guatemala had suffered 
from pervasive corruption, and its government was in ruins from a 
decades-long civil war. Criminal enterprises colluded with politicians, 
military officers, and other government officials to bribe, cheat, and 
steal. Mafias, with deep tentacles into the state, acted with such 
impunity that Guatemala felt compelled to ask for outside help. In 
2006, Guatemala and the United Nations signed an agreement meant to 
``support, strengthen, and assist'' Guatemalan institutions responsible 
for investigating crimes committed by so-called ``illegal security 
groups'' and ``clandestine security organizations.'' Although CICIG 
enjoys complete functional independence, the agreement stated that 
CICIG must discharge its mandate in ``accordance with Guatemalan law 
and the provisions of the Constitution.'' Regrettably, this provision 
has not been followed.
  Despite noble goals, it has become apparent that CICIG is not being 
held accountable to either Guatemalan law or the United Nations. As the 
largest financial contributor to the United Nations, the United States 
has an interest in investigating the credible allegations that CICIG 
was grossly overstepping its mandate. After all, the American taxpayers 
were largely financing this enterprise.
  The questionable practices of CICIG and its unelected leader have 
been reported in our national papers. The Wall Street Journal's Mary 
Anastasia O'Grady has been a close observer of Colombian jurist Ivan 
Velasquez, who serves as CICIG's Commissioner. Ms. O'Grady states:

       Under his leadership, there is strong evidence that CICIG 
     routinely flouts the rule of law and tramples civil liberties 
     in violation of the Guatemalan constitution. His methods 
     can't be supported by a republic that pledges allegiance to 
     transparency and human rights.

  Powerful institutions have a tendency to amass more powers to 
themselves and stretch their authority far beyond their legal mandates. 
Even its most strident supporters have acknowledged that CICIG now 
essentially answers to no one and needs to be reformed. Nowhere is this 
contention better supported than the CICIG-backed persecution of the 
Bitkov family on behalf of the Russian Government. For all its flaws, 
which are numerous, CICIG's decision to conspire with Russia is the 
most outrageous.

  Igor and Irina Bitkov built a successful paper mill company, the 
Northwest Timber Company, in Russia's Kaliningrad enclave. This rare 
example of successful private enterprise in Russia was once valued at 
nearly half a billion dollars, but success comes with a price in 
Putin's Russia.
  In 2005, a senior officer of the state-owned Sberbank demanded that 
the Bitkovs sell him a controlling stake in their company. Imagine. It 
is an offer the Bitkovs refused. Two years later, the Bitkovs' 16-year-
old daughter, Anastasia, was kidnapped, drugged, raped, and held until 
the Bitkov family paid a ransom.
  In April 2008, three Russian state banks--the VTB, Sberbank, and 
Gazprombank--forced the Bitkovs' company into bankruptcy by calling in 
the immediate repayment of nearly $160 million in loans. Traumatized 
and threatened with detention and death, the Bitkovs decided to flee 
Russia. More death threats followed as Moscow opened a criminal case in 
  The Bitkovs eventually immigrated to Guatemala in 2009 after paying a 
legitimate law firm for Guatemalan passports with new identities for 
their protection. The Bitkovs settled into a new life that was 
blessedly free from Russian harassment and intimidation. Igor and Irina 
began teaching at a local school. Anastasia began to heal from her 
ordeal. A son, Vladimir, was born in 2012.
  The reprieve was short-lived. VTB, one of the Russian banks, 
collaborated in 2015 with CICIG and the Guatemalan Attorney General to 
arrest the Bitkovs for passport violations. Detained in appalling 
conditions, Anastasia was denied medication and had a nervous 
breakdown. Three-year-old Vladimir was sent to an orphanage for 42 days 
without having contact with his parents or appointed guardians. 
Eventually freed by a court order and with an upper respiratory 
infection, conjunctivitis in both eyes, and clear physical and 
psychological abuse, Vladimir returned to his family. This is modern-
day CICIG in Guatemala.
  Under the direction of CICIG, the Bitkovs were sent to trial in 
February of 2017. The Guatemalan Court of Appeals, however, enjoined 
the Bitkovs' prosecution and stated that the family was not criminally 
liable for passport violations. Despite this injunction, a lower court, 
at the behest of CICIG, went ahead with the case and eventually 
sentenced Igor Bitkov to 19 years and Irina and Anastasia to 14 years 
in prison. Let me repeat--19 years and 14 years for passport 
violations. They were passports that they believed to be legitimate 
based on legal advice they had been given. These were infractions that 
are usually settled with a fine at worst, but this was all in 
collaboration with CICIG and the Russian accusers.
  Following more convoluted legal wrangling, Igor Bitkov was released 
on house arrest in May, but, inexplicably, Irina and Anastasia remained 
in jail--more injunctions, more appeals, more tortuous legal 
proceedings. Irina and Anastasia were finally released on bail in mid-
June. This is CICIG in Guatemala. Pushed by CICIG, the Constitutional 
Court, which is the highest court in Guatemala, ordered a retrial for 
the Bitkovs. It began last week and supposedly continues.
  American taxpayers who are footing the bill for CICIG have a right to 
ask Commissioner Velasquez and his CICIG team: Is this the way to fight 
corruption in Guatemala? In short, CICIG, under the direction of 
Commissioner Velasquez, has gone from fighting corruption to doing 
Vladimir Putin's dirty work even. He has gone even so far as to 
persecute victims, like the Bitkovs, of corruption.
  The Bitkov affair demonstrates how badly CICIG has gone astray and 
why President Morales is right to want it out of his country. CICIG was 
established to help investigate and prosecute Mafias who were 
entrenched in the state and able to act with impunity. Yet it gets 
involved in a passport

[[Page S7858]]

violation case against a family that is clearly fleeing Russian 
  CICIG is supposed to be above reproach. Yet it collaborates with a 
state-owned Russian bank that, incidentally, is currently under U.S. 
sanctions. The CICIG is doing the bidding of Putin's henchmen in its 
acting as the long arm of Russia's dictatorship. The intervention of a 
Kremlin-controlled bank shows that influencing CICIG is a part of the 
Kremlin's broader campaign to exert pressure across Latin America, and 
we ought to be concerned about that.
  Earlier this month, in the Wall Street Journal, Ms. O'Grady wrote 
that the creeping intervention from Moscow is designed to damage U.S. 
interests by destabilizing liberal democracy.
  ADM Craig Faller, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, told 
the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia is flooding Latin 
America's internet, social media, and television outlets with original 
and reproduced propaganda to sow doubt about U.S. intentions. Russia 
has also provided crucial financial support to the infamous Maduro 
regime in Venezuela, and it competes with the United States to provide 
military support for regional partners.
  Another strategic competitor, China, is also seeking to influence 
important U.S. partners in Latin America. China has provided more than 
$140 billion in Belt and Road Initiative loan commitments. Beijing is 
now Latin America's second largest trading partner.
  Although CICIG once played a significant role in exposing and 
prosecuting serious corruption, it has now fallen victim to Lord 
Acton's famous observation--that power tends to corrupt and absolute 
power corrupts absolutely.
  President Morales has made a decision, as the duly elected head of a 
sovereign country, that he will no longer tolerate an increasingly 
neocolonial force. The United States should stand behind this decision. 
The CICIG was never supposed to stay indefinitely.

  This move by the Guatemalan Government does not absolve its own 
responsibility to fight corruption. Indeed, we should demand a 
redoubling of these efforts. As a critical country in the Western 
Hemisphere, a return to pre-CICIG conditions would be unacceptable. 
This is the chance for Guatemalans to work toward the justice that 
CICIG abandoned with its complicity in Moscow's vendetta. This should 
begin with an end to the Bitkov family's long nightmare. Their ordeal 
has gone way beyond a miscarriage of justice, and with CICIG's being 
gone, Guatemala must do the right thing without further delay or 
  In conclusion, the duly constituted Government of Guatemala has made 
the right decision and should be congratulated for yesterday's action. 
The country's leadership took a necessary step in asserting its 
sovereignty and in ending a dysfunctional relationship with CICIG, a 
well-intended agency that has exceeded its mandate and outlived 
whatever usefulness it may initially have had.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Wicker). The Senator from Colorado.