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Court blocks Guatemala President’s move to expel UN anti- corruption chief

(Last Updated On: August 29, 2017)

By James, Michael Igiri
Guatemala constitutional court, on Sunday halted President Jimmy Morales’ move to
expel head of a U.N. anti-corruption commission that is investigating his campaign’s
financing.
The President also drew criticism from the international community, including the
United States, even as various protests sprang up within the nation’s capital.
A video posted on the government’s Twitter site early Sunday showed Morales
declaring Ivan Velasquez “non grata” and ordering him to leave the country
immediately. The president also announced he was firing Foreign Minister Carlos
Raul Morales for failing to carry out the expulsion.
While Morales said nothing about kicking out the entire commission of foreign
experts, the expulsion would however leave its future unclear. The decade-old panel
has worked with Guatemalan prosecutors to root out corruption and was key to
bringing down former President Otto Perez Molina, who was forced to resign in 2015
and remains in prison.
Within hours, Francisco de Mata Vela, head of Guatemala’s Constitutional Court,
said that body had issued a temporary injunction blocking the order to expel
Velasquez. The court will now analyse the case before reaching a definitive decision.
It was not clear how long that would take.
AP reporter Sonia Perez reports, Morales released another video at mid-afternoon
affirming his decision to boot Velasquez. He said Velasquez overstepped his
authority by improperly pressuring the country’s legislative process and making
public accusations against Guatemalans in spite of a presumption of innocence and
guarantee of due process.
Chief prosecutor Thelma Aldana, working with the U.N. commission, announced
Friday that she was asking the Supreme Court to recommend stripping Morales of
his immunity from prosecution in order to investigate financing of his 2015
campaign, when he ran on the slogan “Neither corrupt nor a crook.” If the court
agrees, the decision on immunity would be made by Congress.
The prosecutor said Morales had refused to account for more than $800,000 in
campaign financing and had hidden his own party’s accounts. Velasquez said at the
joint news conference with Aldana that financing of some campaign expenditures
could not be explained.
The President has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The embassies of international donor countries that support the U.N. commission —
United States, Germany, Canada, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Sweden and

Switzerland as well as the European Union — issued a joint statement regretting
Morales’ decision.
The commission “has played a vital role in the fight against impunity and corruption
that undermine security and prosperity in Guatemala. The decision to expel
Commissioner Ivan Velasquez harms the ability of CICIG to achieve its mandate,” the
statement said.
U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,
expressed disappointment in Morales’ decision. In a statement, he said the U.S.
government would examine the future of its foreign assistance to Guatemala.
Later Sunday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a
statement that the U.S. was “deeply concerned” by Morales’ decision. She said
Velasquez has been an effective leader of the commission and “it remains crucial that
(the commission) be permitted to work free from interference by the Guatemalan
government.”
Guatemala’s human rights prosecutor, Jordan Rodas, joined in one of the
demonstrations at which people shouted support for Velasquez. He also spent time
with Velasquez to guarantee his safety and said Velasquez stressed that he continued
to lead the commission.
“The commissioner was doing well and is very appreciative of the support,” Rodas
said.
Health Minister Lucrecia Hernandez Mack and her deputies resigned, saying that by
expelling Velasquez, Morales had taken a position in favour of impunity and the
corrupt sectors of the country.
The president’s action Sunday capped days of speculation that Morales would move
against Velasquez. The president travelled to the U.N. last week to meet with U.N.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the government said topics included
circumscribing the mandate of the anti-corruption commission led by Velasquez.
In May, a Guatemalan judge ordered that the brother and son of Morales stand trial
on fraud charges. They allegedly submitted about $23,000 of false receipts in a tax
fraud scheme in 2013, before Morales took office. Both have maintained their
innocence.
Perez Molina resigned along with his vice president, Roxanna Baldetti, in 2015 and
both remain jailed awaiting trial on corruption charges related to a huge customs
fraud scheme.
They have also been investigated for bribery and money laundering crimes stemming
from a criminal graft network. Prosecutors alleged that Perez Molina received some
$37.9 million from companies in return for awarding construction contracts. He also
allegedly accepted a helicopter, a sports car, a plane and other gifts.