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Guatemalan president defiant over ousting of UN anti-corruption chief

Guatemala President Jimmy Morales has vowed to ignore a top court's veto of his sacking of a UN anti-graft envoy. Ivan Velasquez has alleged that Morales received almost a million dollars in illegal campaign financing.

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Guatemala’s president expels anti-graft chief

In a defiant national address on Sunday, Morales said his decision to expel the United Nations anti-corruption envoy Ivan Velasquez was a matter of foreign policy and not for judges to decide.

His comments follow the Constitutional Court's reversal of the sacking of Velasquez. The Colombian national heads the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which has been investigating government graft for several years.

'Leave now'

Earlier on Sunday, Morales had told Velasquez he was "persona non grata" and ordered him to leave the Central American country immediately. The president accused the UN envoy of interfering in Guatemala's domestic affairs.

Guatemala Protest gegen Präsident Jimmy Morales (Reuters/L. Echeverria)

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But in its ruling hours later, the country's highest civil court overruled his decision and said no senior ministers should participate in removing Velasquez.

Velasquez, a veteran prosecutor, was appointed to head CICIG in 2013. The UN body was instrumental in removing Guatemala's former president, Otto Perez Molina, from office in 2015 after identifying him as a key player in an alleged multimillion-dollar corruption racket.

Clean image tainted

Although right leaning Morales was elected in 2016 on an anti-corruption ticket, his popularity among the country's 16 million people nosedived after he faced accusations of receiving some $800,000 (670,000 euros) in unexplained contributions to his campaign.
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CICIG said last week Morales should be investigated for alleged illicit funding to his party, the National Convergence Front. On Friday, Guatemalan prosecutors applied to strip the president of his immunity so he can be investigated. Morales has denied any wrongdoing.

Three senior ministers resigned over the weekend, having threatened to quit if Velasquez was forced out.

Screenshot Video Jimmy Morales Twitter (Twitter/Gobierno Guatemala)

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales

Universal criticism

Morales' decision was quickly condemned by the international community. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a statement he was "shocked" by the move, and called on Guatemalan authorities to treat Velasquez with respect.

"Velasquez has worked tirelessly to promote a culture that upholds the rule of law and rejects corruption," Guterres said.

The US, along with Germany, France, Britain and Canada, strongly backed Velasquez and criticized the decision to expel him from one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

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mm/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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