Wed, Jan 09, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Guatemala exits UN-backed anti-graft body

EXCEEDED AUTHORITY:CICIG and its members have politicized its work, violated the nation’s sovereignty and caused ‘division’ in society, Foreign Minister Jovel said


Demonstrators hold a vigil outside the Guatemalan Constitutional Court in Guatemala City on Monday against a decision by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to end the mandate of a UN-backed anti-corruption commission.

Photo: Reuters

Guatemala on Monday said that it was withdrawing from a UN-backed anti-corruption commission and giving its prosecutors one day to leave the country, as Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales moved to expel a body that has investigated him, his family and top government officials.

Accusing the commission of overreach and violating Guatemala’s sovereignty, Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs Sandra Jovel announced the decision after meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

An hour later in Guatemala City, Morales held a news conference accompanied by his ministers in which he accused the UN and Guterres of being silent in the face of what he said were human rights abuses committed by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, 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,” Morales said.

He 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, a case in which the CICIG participated.

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

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

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

Jovel accused the commission and its members of politicizing 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.

The commission’s staffers have 24 hours to leave the country, Jovel said, although a Guatemalan court has ruled that the country has to grant them visas.

US Representative Norma Torres, a Democrat from California who was born in Guatemala, said that Morales’ presidency “has set the country back years, if not decades.”

“When he took office in 2016, Morales had a historic opportunity to give Guatemalans the transparent and effective government that they deserve,” she said in a statement. “Instead, when faced with the prospect of criminal investigation by CICIG and the public ministry, he chose to destroy the rule of law in order to protect himself.”

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 in November last year said that it has won 310 convictions and broken up 60 criminal networks.

Morales has made no secret of his contempt for the group, which has investigated his son and his brother, as well as Morales for possible campaign finance violations. They have denied the accusations.

Lawmakers have rebuffed proposals to lift Morales’ immunity from prosecution.

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