Guatemala expels UN-backed corruption commission

Commission had been investigating president Jimmy Morales and his family

Guatemala’s president Jimmy Morales addresses the media on the country’s withdrawal from a  UN-sponsored anti-corruption commission at the National Palace in Guatemala City on Monday. Photograph:  Moises Castillo/AP

Guatemala’s president Jimmy Morales addresses the media on the country’s withdrawal from a UN-sponsored anti-corruption commission at the National Palace in Guatemala City on Monday. Photograph: Moises Castillo/AP

 

Guatemala has said it is withdrawing from a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission which has been investigating the country’s president.

Jimmy Morales’s government has moved to expel the body that has investigated him, his family and top government officials and is giving its prosecutors a day to leave the country.

Accusing the commission of overreaching and violating Guatemala’s sovereignty, foreign minister Sandra Jovel announced the decision on Monday after meeting with the UN’s secretary general Antonio Guterres.

An hour later in Guatemala City, Mr Morales held a news conference accompanied by his ministers in which he accused the UN and Mr Guterres of being silent in the face of what he said were human rights abuses committed by the commission, known as CICIG for its Spanish initials.

“In spite of Guatemala’s efforts with the United Nations, the silence, passivity and negativism of the secretary general contributed to an uncertainty in the CICIG’s actions that put at risk the country’s sovereignty,” Guatemala’s president said.

Russian family

Mr Morales was accompanied by members of a Russian family who had been convicted of corruption for the use of false documents to open businesses and buy property in Guatemala, in a case in which the CICIG participated.

“Thank you, Mr President, for your fight for sovereignty and human rights,” said family member Irina Bitkova.

Mr Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric issued a statement saying the UN expects Guatemala to keep up its end of an agreement that created the commission, until its mandate ends in September.

Mr Guterres “strongly rejects” Guatemala’s complaints in withdrawing from the commission, Mr Dujarric said, adding that the group has made an “important contribution . . . to the fight against impunity in Guatemala”.

Ms Jovel accused the commission and its members of politicising its work, violating Guatemala’s sovereignty, failing to respect the presumption of innocence and causing “division in our society”.

“The CICIG has exceeded its authority,” she said. Ms Jovel said the commission’s officials have 24 hours to leave the country, though a Guatemalan court has ruled that the country has to grant them visas.

Corruption cases

During its 11 years operating in Guatemala, CICIG has pressed corruption cases that have implicated more than 600 people, including elected officials, businesspeople and bureaucrats. The commission said in November that it has won 310 convictions and broken up 60 criminal networks.

Mr Morales has made no secret of his contempt for the group – formally, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala – which has investigated the president’s son and his brother, as well as Mr Morales for possible campaign finance violations. They deny the accusations.

MPs have so far rebuffed proposals to lift Mr Morales’s immunity from prosecution.

Mr Morales said in August 2017 he was expelling CICIG’s chief. Though a court quickly blocked that order, the commission head was later barred from re-entering the country after leaving for a business trip. – AP