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Guatemala court orders return of anti-graft chief

September 17, 2018

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales expelled the head of the UN body, citing "security reasons." The official is known for leading an anti-corruption commission that successfully prosecuted top politicians in Guatemala.

Guatemala anti-government protests
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/O. de Ros

Guatemala's highest court delivered a strong rebuke to President Jimmy Morales on Sunday, allowing for the return of a UN-backed anti-graft chief, whom Morales had banned from the country. The decision was unanimous but provisional, opening up a period of 48 hours for the government to challenge it before a final decision is reached.

As the head of the UN's International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Ivan Velasquez had been under attack by the Guatemalan president since leading a graft investigation on his 2015 presidential campaign.

"The plenary of magistrates annuls the decision taken by President Jimmy Morales, which prevents the return of the head of CICIG," said Dina Ochoa, one of five judges on the court.

On September 4, Morales barred Velasquez from entering the country and last month, the Guatemalan president announced that he would not renew the CICIG's two-year term. The move effectively forced the organization to cease its activities by the end of the year.

The government's attacks on the CICIG triggered criticism abroad and had led to growing protests at home.

Read more: Opinion: Well done, Guatemala!

Guatemala Jimmy Morales Ansprache
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has accused the official of undermining the country's securtyImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Franco

Velasquez expelled for 'security reasons'

Guatemala's attorney general joined forces with the CICIG in 2017 to prosecute Morales, a former comedian turned politician, over illegal financing allegations during his election campaign. The Guatemalan president has denied the charges and accused the CICIG of overstepping its mandate.

Morales referred to Velasquez as "a person who attacks order and public security in the country," saying that the anti-corruption chief was banned from Guatemala for "security reasons."

The Guatemalan president had also tried to expel Velasquez from the country last year, when he declared him persona non grata. But much like its decision on Sunday, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned Morales' order

Waning support

In terms of ending the CICIG's mandate, Morales said he did not intend to obstruct justice, but that he sought to establish the country's constitution "as our highest law." He noted that he was not obligated to obey the anti-corruption organ's "illegal rulings."

The CICIG was established in 2006, with the backing of the UN and had successfully prosecuted Morales' predecessor, former President Otto Perez Molina and his vice president.

Despite staunchly supporting anti-corruption body in the past, the State Department under US President Donald Trump has stayed silent on the recent attacks against it.

jcg/ls (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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