Guatemala orders expulsion of UN graft investigator

by Henry MORALES
1 / 2
Guatemala orders expulsion of UN graft investigator

Guatemala City (AFP) - Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales on Sunday ordered the expulsion of a top UN anti-corruption official who had moved to strip him of his immunity over party finance allegations, raising fears of a fresh political crisis in the country.

Morales said he ordered the expulsion of Colombian national Ivan Velasquez "in the interests of the Guatemalan people, for the strengthening of the rule of law and our institutions," in a video published online.

"I order that he immediately leave the Republic of Guatemala."

He cited articles of the constitution and international conventions, implying that Velasquez had interfered in Guatemala's internal affairs.

Velasquez is the head of the UN International Committee Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was "shocked" by Morales's move and "has repeatedly reiterated his full confidence in Commissioner Velasquez," Guterres's spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

"Mr. Velasquez has worked tirelessly to promote a culture that upholds the rule of law and rejects corruption."

- Corruption allegations -

The commission helped prosecutors investigate a corruption scandal that toppled president Otto Perez in 2015.

Morales, a former comedian, won the subsequent elections and took over as president the following year.

Now investigators say Morales is suspected of failing to declare electoral campaign funds. They estimate the value of the suspect transactions at about $1.0 million.

On Friday, Velasquez and Guatemalan prosecutors applied to strip Morales of his immunity so he can be probed over the payments linked to his party, the National Convergence Front.

That same day, Morales met with Guterres.

Morales also said he was firing his foreign minister Carlos Raul Morales.

The minister was involved in Friday's meeting with the UN chief and denied having demanded Velasquez's removal.

- Angry protests -

Reports of plans to expel Velasquez had already sparked angry protests outside the presidential palace on Saturday.

That raised the prospect of a fresh wave of unrest like the one that broke out against Perez in 2015.

Protests against Velasquez's removal broke out again Sunday at his commission's headquarters and the country's constitutional court after the announcement.

Right-leaning Protestant Morales, 48, had promised to fight corruption.

But his perceived lack of action since taking office last year has driven down his popularity.

Activist Jorge Santos, head of the UDEFEGUA human rights group, warned the expulsion of Velasquez could spark a new crisis.

"We are faced with a government that has lost its legitimacy almost immediately," he told AFP.

"Now we are starting to see a new day" of protests like those of 2015, he said.