A Guatemalan businessman objects to his name being brought up in the trial over Bishop Gerardi's murder and wants to clear his reputation.

Bishop Marion Rios Montt, auxiliary bishop of Guatemala City, alleged in court testimony in late March that Jose Antonio Arzú, brother of then president Edward Arzú, offered him a “deal” after the April 1998 killing of Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera.

According to Bishop Rios Montt, Arzú said the government would not prosecute Father Mario Orantes Najera for any involvement in the case if the Church signed a statement absolving the military from any responsibility for the murder.

Contacted by the Register, Arzú strongly denied the bishop's allegation that he proposed a deal. Instead, Arzú said, he was contacted by Msgr. Efraín Hernández, chancellor of the Curia, through a common friend, Father Danilo Sanchinelli, with a request that he meet with Bishop Rios Montt.

“The bishop told me they were deeply concerned about the situation of Father Orantes and asked me if I could help in any way to get him out of that situation,” Arzú told the Register. “I told them that the only way to take him out of the problem was by making him tell what he saw, but they told me they had thoroughly questioned him, without any fruit.”

The businessman's account is supported by written legal testimony from Father Sanchinelli, confirming that the meeting with Bishop Rios Montt was held upon the request of Msgr. Hernández.

According to Father Sanchinelli's statement, Msgr. Hernández contacted him about two years ago, expressing concern about the Church's connection with the Gerardi investigation and urgently requesting help in contacting President Arzú or a member of his family.

Father Sanchinelli stated that he arranged a meeting the next day with Jose Antonio Arzú, a personal friend, and that Bishop Rios Montt also attended the meeting. “I wish to certify that it was Msgr. Efrain Hernández Valle who proposed and organized the meeting and not Mr. Jose Antonio Arzú,” Father Sanchinelli stated.

Contacted by the Register, Bishop Rios Montt emphatically reaffirmed his court testimony. “If Mr. Arzú was talking on his behalf, on the government's, or the military's, I don't know, but the proposal was definitely made,” he said.

When asked about Father Sanchinelli's written testimony, the bishop said “it has no value.” “How the meeting took place is a matter of Msgr. Hernández and I don't care. At the end, it is his [Arzú's] word against mine and I am ready to go to court if necessary,” said the bishop, who is the brother of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt.

Arzú expressed disappointment at having been implicated in the Bishop Gerardi case. Said Arzú, “My family is Catholic, but sometimes we feel disappointed by the political bias some Church personalities take.”

Alejandro Bermúdez