External Affairs

Guatemalan President Morales May Be Investigated in Campaign Finance Case

Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales attends a meeting with mayors in Guatemala City, Guatemala, August 29, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Jose Cabezas/Files

Guatemala City: Guatemala’s top court opened the way on Monday for an investigation of President Jimmy Morales for alleged illegal campaign finances, but Congress will have the final say on removing his presidential immunity and could yet block the probe.

Prosecutors may have a tough time winning enough support, a two-thirds majority to be exact, to formally charge Morales and investigate him, since all the major parties are under the scanner. Late last month, Guatemala’s attorney general and the UN-backed anti-graft body, the International Commission against Impunity (CICIG) said they would investigate parties on suspicion of illegal campaign financing during the 2015 presidential election campaign.

The CICIG head Ivan Velasquez said there is evidence that Morales broke the law when he was head of the conservative National Convergence Front (FCCN). Two days later Morales declared the head of the UN body “persona non grata” and ordered Velasquez out of the country in a move that sparked international outrage. The nation’s constitutional court ruled against the president, finding he did not have the authority to expel the CICIG head.

Already the CICIG has been a thorn in Morales’s side, investigating his son and brother and now seeking to remove his own immunity, alleging over $800,000 has changed hands as unexplained campaign funds. Morales has denied any wrongdoing in the scandal that has tarred the country’s top parties. In a statement he said  he has always respected the rule of law and the separation of powers between different branches of government.

Morales won office in 2015 running on a platform of honest governance after his predecessor, Otto Perez Molina, was forced to resign and imprisoned in a multi-million dollar graft case stemming from a CICIG investigation.

The next move by lawmakers will be to vote on constituting a special committee that will decide if stripping Morales’ immunity gets a floor vote. This may be a stumbling block. “I see a favorable scenario for the president because three of the main parties are being accused of the same illegal financing,” said Roberto Alejos, founder of the centrist Todos party that was formed by dissidents from other parties.

(Reuters)