Guatemala president expels UN anti-corruption chief

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Guatemala president expels UN anti-corruption chief
Guatemala president expels UN anti-corruption chief

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) – Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced Sunday he was expelling the head of a U.N. anti-corruption commission that is investigating his campaign’s financing – only to have the order blocked hours later by the country’s top court.

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. He also announced he was firing Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales for failure to carry out the expulsion.

Morales said nothing of kicking out the entire commission of foreign experts, but the expulsion would leave its future unclear. Two years remain on its mandate.

However, by midday Francisco de Mata Vela, head of Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, said that it had issued a temporary injunction blocking the order to expel Velasquez. The court will now analyze the case before reaching a definitive decision. It was not clear how long that would take.

Velasquez heads a 10-year-old commission of experts that has worked with Guatemalan prosecutors to root out corruption in the country. It was key to bringing down former President Otto Perez Molina, who was forced to resign in 2015 and remains in prison.

Chief prosecutor Thelma Aldana, working with the U.N. commission, announced on 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 in the joint news conference with Aldana that financing of some campaign expenditures could not be explained.

Morales has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Some 2,500 people demonstrated in the capital on Saturday to demand Morales resign.

The embassies of international donor countries that support the U.N. commission – United States, Germany, Canada, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, 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.

About 50 people gathered Sunday at the commission’s headquarters, among them some foreign ambassadors along with Guatemala’s human rights prosecutor, in a show of support for Velasquez. The crowd chanted “Friend Ivan the people are with you.”

Sunday’s move capped days of speculation that Morales would move against Velasquez. The president had travelled to the U.N. last week to meet with Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the government said topics included circumscribing the mandate of the anti-corruption commission led by Velasquez.

In Sunday’s video, Morales said he was acting “in the interest of the people of Guatemala,” though he did not make any direct allegations against Velasquez.

In May a Guatemalan judge ordered that the brother and son of Morales must 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.

Former President Perez Molina resigned along with his Vice-President Roxanna Baldetti in 2015 and both remain jailed awaiting trial on corruption charges related to a massive 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.

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AP writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.

Demonstrators against President Jimmy Morales block the way to a man, who identified himself as messenger of the Foreign Ministry, at the main entrance of the the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala City, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced Sunday he is expelling of Ivan Velasquez, the head of a U.N. anti-corruption commission that is investigating the president’s campaign financing. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Ivan Velasquez, commissioner of the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity, listens to a question during a press conference in Guatemala City, Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. Velasquez and Guatemala’s attorney general are calling for the removal of President Jimmy Morales’ political immunity to investigate him for illicit electoral financing. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
People sit next to a banner with a portrait of Ivan Velasquez, Commissioner of the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity, reading reading “Ivan stays”, in Guatemala City, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced Sunday he is expelling the head of a U.N. anti-corruption commission that is investigating the president’s campaign financing. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Demonstrators shout slogans against Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales at the main entrance of the the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala City, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced Sunday he is expelling of Ivan Velasquez, the head of a U.N. anti-corruption commission that is investigating the president’s campaign financing. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Journalists and a UN staff stand at the main entrance of the the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala City, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced Sunday he is expelling of Ivan Velasquez who heads a 10-year-old commission of experts that has worked with Guatemalan prosecutors to root out corruption in the country, and is currently investigating the president’s campaign financing.(AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
A woman holds a sign against Guatamela’s President Jimmy Morales as demonstrators gather at the Constitutional Court in support of the UN International Commission Against Impunity, in Guatemala City, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced Sunday he is expelling of Ivan Velasquez, the head of a U.N. anti-corruption commission that is investigating the president’s campaign financing. (AP Photo/Luis Soto)