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Guatemala: Where power and corruption intersect

Jimmy MoralesTwo years ago, then President of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, made headlines around the world after a corruption scandal came to light involving himself and senior officials of his administration, including then Vice President Roxana Baldetti.

The case, known as “La Línea” (The Line), in reference to the telephone line used by importers to offer bribes to avoid customs duties, was exposed in early 2015 by the country’s Attorney General and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

The scandal, which is reported to have generated 3.6 million dollars between May 2014 and April 2015, led to Baldetti’s resignation and that of Pérez Molina – who refused to step down immediately after the customs corruption ring was exposed – a few months later. Both – in addition to other government officials – are currently standing trial for various corruption charges.
Today, Guatemala is once again in the eye of the storm after President Jimmy Morales declared head of CICIG, Iván Velásquez of Colombia, a persona non grata.
Created 11 years ago by a mutual agreement between the United Nations and Guatemalan government, the organization has been led by Velásquez since 2013.
According to its website, CICIG is an unprecedented institution within the UN, and “has many of the attributes of an international prosecutor, but it operates under Guatemalan law.
“CICIG carries out independent investigations into the activities of illegal security groups and clandestine security structures.”


After Guatemala’s second round of presidential elections in 2015, Jimmy Morales expressed his support for Iván Velásquez to continue as CICIG head, stating that if he won the elections he would work to ensure the permanence of the organization.
In fact, during a visit to the United Nations last year, Morales, whose winning campaign slogan was “Neither corrupt nor a thief,” called for CICIG to continue through 2019, a motion which was later approved.

However, relations between the organization and Morales began to deteriorate after Edgar Justino Ovalle, a figure close to the president and one of the founders of the ruling National Convergence Front (FCN), was accused of being involved in forced disappearances, and later of concealing information related to Party campaign funds.
A while later, in early 2017, Jimmy’s son and brother were implicated in a new case of missing state funds, which saw both stand trial for fraud and money laundering in July.
However, the turning point in the conflict came at the end of August, when CICIG and the Attorney General’s Office revealed that the President had received illegal financing during the campaign which saw him elected in 2015.
Shortly after, Morales declared Velásquez to be a persona non grata and issued an order for his expulsion from the country, which was later rejected by Supreme Court Justice (CSJ) Magistrates.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres reaffirmed his support for Velázquez as head of CICIG: “No complaints relating to the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala have been received… the Secretary-General heartily commends the work of Commissioner Velásquez and looks forward to continuing to support him carrying out his functions at the helm of the Commission.”

Meanwhile, the CSJ began legal proceedings against Morales for illegal campaign financing, a motion which was however recently blocked by Congress, meaning that Morales maintains his presidential immunity from prosecution.


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