Head Of AmCham Guatemala Juan Pablo Carrasco De Groote: The “Art Of The Deal” (Guatemala-style)
U.S. administrations change, but one thing that remains constant – the position of Amcham Guatemala's head in one person.
Ironic as it is, considering the United States’ valiant fight for the rule of law and the necessity for peaceful transition of power and open and fair elections across the world and especially in Central and Latin America, that has not always been the case at AmCham.
Indeed, AmCham as an organization has advocated for policies that help businesses create jobs and build prosperity. Building on a strong legacy of trust and track record of success, across the globe, it is at best disappointing to see what the approach of AmCham over the years has been to Guatemala.
When first assuming the job as president of AmCham in Guatemala, Juan Pablo Carrasco was a partner at Central Law – one of the leading law firms in Guatemala. Today, Mr. Carrasco continues to be a partner at Central Law, however, sources close to the Guatemalan legal community believe that Mr. Carrasco is now partner in name only and more frequently than not offers his legal consulting services separately from the firm, while continuing to rely on its name and reputation.
“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” goes the saying. The immutable position of Mr. Carrasco de Groote as head of AmCham has allowed him to bolster his client list and act as an advisor to some on some of the most high-profile deals in Guatemala. Indeed, Juan Pablo Carrasco has advised and lead the local strategy in investment and acquisition projects in multiple mining and energy projects which include Nickel, Silver, Gold, Antimony and Petroleum, among other matters.
At the same time, in conversation with members of the Guatemalan business community, many describe Juan Pablo Carrasco using the term “AboGanster” (abbreviation of “lawyer” and “gangster”). They are frustrated by his modus operandi in which Mr. Carrasco utilizes his Amcham title to cloak himself in the veil of US Foreign policy objectives in Guatemala, whilst some Guatemalan businessmen with whom we have spoken, even described episodes when Mr. Carrasco would talk on behalf of the American administration for his own personal business gains.
It has been reported by local mainstream media that Mr. Carrasco uses his title to represent complicated personalities like the recently indicted drug lord Federico “Fred” Machado, giving credence to the perception among the businessmen we have spoken to of his “AboGangster” nature.
We have formally enquired with AmCham Guatemala regarding AmCham’s position on Mr. Carrasco’s reported business dealings. AmCham Guatemala refused to provide comments for this article, stating that they do not comment on the personal affairs of their members.
As reported by several media in recent weeks, Juan Pablo Carrasco also appears to have played a key role in advising Odebrecht in its settlement with the Guatemalan government concerning alleged violations of ani-bribery laws.
Odebrecht - a Brazilian construction company - fell into disrepute, when it was discovered that it had paid bribes to government officials across Latin and Central America for decades. The company faced various corruption charges in several jurisdictions and paid millions of dollars of penalties, with one exception - Guatemala.
In Guatemala, Odebrecht settled all claims with the Guatemalan authorities, but the circumstances of that settlement are at best peculiar and at worst, are reflective of the systematic failure of institutions called to prevent corruption, and those who bear a legal and moral obligation not to advance or facilitate corrupt practices, such as lawyer, advisors, auditors and bankers.
It is alleged that in 2018, as part of an arrangement struck with Odebrecht, the attorney general of Guatemala at the time Juan Francisco Sandoval travelled to Brazil, accompanied by Juan Pablo Carrasco – the lawyer and advisor of the accused company – to sign a settlement deal pursuant to which Odebrecht paid a reduced fine, but was not prosecuted or otherwise found guilty of committing any crime in Guatemala.
The fact that an attorney general would sign a settlement agreement of this magnitude in private is remarkable in of itself, but that an acting attorney general would do so whilst travelling abroad on a “business visit” to see a private company is completely unheard of.
This murky arrangement, if proven, would be a watershed moment for the fight against corruption and impunity in Guatemala.
From one perspective, it would represent a devastating blow to the fight against corruption in Guatemala: Juan Francisco Sandoval, the declared champion of anti-corruption, a staunch prosecutor of the corrupt, signing a deal behind closed doors with perhaps the most corrupted actor in all of Latin America – Odebrecht, while being entertained and escorted by Juan Pablo Carrasco – counsel for the accused and head of AmCham Guatemala, seemingly giving his (and by implication AmCham’s) blessing to this arrangement.
On the other hand, if the allegations are proven, it would be a triumph for anti-corruption in Guatemala, showing to the Guatemalan people and the world at large that no one is above the law or beyond reproach, and that corrupt dealing no matter how presented, cloaked or protected – should never go unpunished, even if the culprits may be very influential.
Finally, it would enable institutions in Guatemala, whether political, judicial or commercial – such as trade organizations, or bar associations, to take an inward-looking approach and devise codes of conduct and ethics standards to not only preach the gospel of anti-corruption, but practice what they preach, and strike a true and equitable deal with society.
Now that would be the “art of the deal”.