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Corruption-accused President of Guatemala given reprieve by Congress

12 September 2017

On Monday 11 September, Guatemala’s Congress voted overwhelmingly to preserve President Jimmy Morales’ immunity from prosecution, dealing a major to the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

Jimmy Morales

President Jimmy Morales (Photo: Wikipedia, CC0 1.0 Universal)

Jimmy Morales was voted President of Guatemala in 2016.

He campaigned on a platform of honest governance, after the previous President Otto Pérez Molina was stripped of immunity and prosecuted for corruption. 

Morales came under scruntiny last month following a request by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), who had previously investigated President Molina, to remove Morales' presidential immunity so that he could potentially be prosecuted for alleged illegal campaign financing.  

Yesterday, 158 members of Congress  voted in favour of Morales retaining presidential immunity, while just 25 wanted it lifted.

Presidential immunity can only be lifted with the backing of at least two-thirds of the vote, equivalent to 105 Congress members.

Morales' backers claim that their vote in favour of his immunity was done in the interests of stability for the country.

“Democracy isn’t built by changing the president every two years,” said Congressman Raul Romero, head of the Fuerza party, referring to the corruption cases that led to the resignation of Otto Pérez Molina.

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is a unique institution created in 2007 by an agreement between the UN and the Guatemalan government.

The CICIG seeks to support Guatemalan institutions in researching, prosecuting and ultimately dismantling networks of criminality and corruption that operate in the country and hinder the justice system.

It is an independent research entity that operates under Guatemalan law and works alongside the Guatemalan justice system.

CICIG's role, particularly under the leadership of Ivan Velazquez, has played an extremely important role against organised crime and corruption structures under adverse conditions and threats against his life and the institution he represents.

In August, Ivan Velasquez and chief prosecutor Thelma Adana announced they were seeking to have Morales' immunity stripped.

Two days later, on Sunday 27 August, in an unprecedented presidential communication, Jimmy Morales declared Ivan Velazquez a 'persona non grata' and requested him to leave the country immediately. This demand was overturned by the Constitutional Court.

The allegations against Morales relate to some $825,000 in funds he managed as secretary general of the conservative National Convergence Front (FCN) party he led from 2015 to 2016.

The president's son and his brother are both currently under investigation for corruption.

Prior to yesterday's immunity vote, Guatemalan people had taken to the streets to protest against Jimmy Morales, but most of all against corruption and a system that they feel does not represent them or their needs. 

We will see in the coming days how the nation reacts to this Congressional vote.