The State Department said on Wednesday that Alejandro Giammattei, Guatemala’s president until a tumultuous transfer of power this week, was barred from entering the United States because of what officials said was information indicating that he had accepted bribes.
The announcement signaled that the United States was moving quickly to support the anticorruption drive led by Guatemala’s new president, Bernardo Arévalo. Guatemala was recently engulfed in protests over attempts to prevent Mr. Arévalo from taking office, and Mr. Giammattei refused to appear at his successor’s inauguration on Monday.
“No one, especially a public official, is above the law,” said Brian Nichols, the top State Department official for the Western Hemisphere.
The Treasury Department also announced sanctions on Wednesday against Alberto Pimentel Mata, a former energy minister in Mr. Giammattei’s government, in connection to Mr. Pimentel Mata’s taking bribes and his involvement in numerous corruption schemes related to government contracts and licenses, officials said.
Last weekend, U.S. Customs and Border Protection denied entry in Miami to one of Mr. Giammattei’s sons, and expelled him on Monday, according to Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah and a supporter of Mr. Giammattei.
Taken together, the moves reflect how the United States government is trying to stem corruption and impunity in Guatemala, Central America’s most populous country.
While Mr. Giammattei was president, from 2020 to 2024, an alliance of prosecutors, judges, members of Congress and other political figures retaliated against officials involved in a pioneering United Nations-backed anticorruption initiative.
“The State Department has credible information indicating that Giammattei accepted bribes in exchange for the performance of his public functions during his tenure as president,” Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement.
The former president is now “generally ineligible” to enter the United States, Mr. Miller added, though he did not provide specific information about the bribes Mr. Giammattei was accused of accepting.
The former president was not immediately available for comment.
Accounts of Mr. Giammattei’s involvement in corruption schemes have been circulating for years in Guatemala. In 2021, prosecutors opened an investigation into claims that Russian citizens paid a bribe to Mr. Giammattei in connection to a mining project, after an anticorruption prosecutor obtained testimony from a witness who said he had gone to Mr. Giammattei’s home and delivered a rolled-up carpet stuffed with cash.
While in office, Mr. Giammattei denied he had been bribed in relation to the Russian project.
Inquiries into these claims did not advance much in Guatemala’s opaque judicial system. In the case involving the carpet stuffed with cash, the prosecutor looking into the matter was fired and forced into exile in the United States.
The State Department designation of Mr. Giammattei comes amid other American efforts to counter illegal activity by political leaders in Central America. The United States in 2022 extradited Juan Orlando Hernández, a former president of Honduras, to face drug-trafficking charges in New York.
Mr. Giammattei, who embraces staunchly conservative policies, is viewed as an ally among some political figures in the United States, such as Mr. Lee and Richard Grenell, a former ambassador to Germany during the Trump administration, who visited Guatemala last week in a show of support for Mr. Giammattei.
The United States announced sanctions last month against Miguel Martínez, one of Mr. Giammattei’s closest associates, in addition to visa restrictions on nearly 300 Guatemalan citizens, including more than 100 members of Congress, for their efforts to weaken Mr. Arévalo and keep him from being inaugurated.
Former presidents in Central America generally gain immunity from prosecution in the region by being sworn in as members of the Central American Parliament. But that immunity does not extend to the U.S. legal system or to involvement in violating American laws. Mr. Giammattei joined the Central American Parliament shortly after his term expired.
Jody García contributed reporting from Guatemala City.