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Prosecutors target Guatemala president over campaign financing

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala’s attorney general and a U.N-backed anti-graft body on Friday said they are seeking to investigate President Jimmy Morales over suspected illicit campaign financing.

Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales attends the Latin America and Caribbean International Economic Forum at the Bercy Finance Ministry in Paris, France, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Ivan Velasquez, head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), told reporters there was evidence that Morales broke the law when he was head of the conservative National Convergence Front (FCN), and that prosecutors had filed a motion to investigate him.

“In order to advance the investigation, it’s necessary to remove his immunity,” said Velasquez, who on Thursday unveiled a probe into all political parties over suspected wrongdoing related to financing for the 2015 election campaign.

To remove Morales’ immunity, prosecutors need the go-ahead from both the Supreme Court and a two-thirds majority in Congress. He could then be formally investigated and charged.

In a statement, the president’s office said, “The President of the Republic has been and is respectful of the law and due process, and thus is confident in the objectivity of justice.”

Morales took office in 2016, winning the election on an anti-corruption ticket after the CICIG helped to bring down his predecessor over a multi-million-dollar corruption scandal.

Earlier this week, two government officials told Reuters that Morales would ask U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to replace Velasquez, who is already investigating a graft case that involves the president’s elder brother and one of his sons.

“He better have some really valid reasons ... to seek my removal from the post,” said Velasquez, adding he would not resign.

Morales met with Guterres in New York on Friday. The secretary-general reiterated his backing for Velasquez and the CICIG’s work at the meeting, with Guterres citing “the Organisation’s continuing support to the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala,” the United Nations said in a statement.

The president’s office, in its statement, said it was worried about “manipulation” of information about the visit. The statement said Morales told Guterres it was important the CICIG stick to its original mandate.

Guatemala’s foreign minister, Carlos Morales, who is not related to the president, told Reuters that there had been no request made on Friday to remove Velasquez from office.

In 2015, the CICIG was instrumental in removing former President Otto Perez from office after identifying him as a key player in an alleged multi-million-dollar corruption racket. Perez is now in prison on trial with his former vice president.

Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Editing by Leslie Adler