January 7, 2019 / 10:47 PM / 14 days ago

Guatemala to shut down U.N. anti-corruption body early

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Guatemala notified the United Nations it was terminating a U.N.-backed anti-graft commission on Tuesday, months ahead of schedule, accusing the body of abuses of power, and prompting a swift rebuke from the U.N. secretary-general.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales holds a news conference to announce the ending of the mandate of the U.N.-backed anti-graft commission (CICIG), in Guatemala City, Guatemala, January 7, 2019. REUTERS/ Luis Echeverria

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, was set up over a decade ago with the authority to conduct independent investigations and work with the country’s prosecutors, bringing down the last president in 2015.

The CICIG also went after President Jimmy Morales, who said in August he would not renew the organization’s mandate, which was due to expire in September 2019. Days later, he banned CICIG head Ivan Velasquez, a hard-charging Colombian prosecutor, from re-entering the country.

Working with the then-attorney general, CICIG tried to prosecute Morales, a former comedian, in 2017 over alleged campaign finance violations. That move followed separate CICIG corruption probes into members of the president’s family.

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel met with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York on Monday and handed him a letter informing him of the government’s intention to end the agreement that had established CICIG.

“It is regrettable that the Secretary-General, in a bid to maintain one person in the position, sacrificed the legitimacy of the commission,” Jovel told a news conference after the meeting, referring to Guterres’ decision to stand by Velasquez.

“Therefore we reported to the Secretary-General that within 24 hours the agreement (that was struck to create CICIG) will be terminated by the Guatemalan government,” she said.

Guterres “strongly rejects” the content of the letter, a spokesman for the secretary-general said in an emailed statement, adding that the United Nations expected Guatemala’s government to “fulfill its legal obligations under the agreement” until the CICIG mandate ends in September.

“The Secretary-General recalls the important contribution of CICIG to the fight against impunity in Guatemala,” it said.

Accompanied by prominent Guatemalans accused of wrongdoing by the CICIG, Morales told a news conference in Guatemala City he had ordered prosecutors to start investigating allegations that the commission had acted outside the law and abused its power.

The foreign-led CICIG is unusual among U.N. bodies for its powers to bring cases to prosecutors, and many politicians in Guatemala consider it to be a violation of national sovereignty. Anti-corruption activists credit it with cleaning up government.

Last month, Guatemala’s government revoked visas and immunity for 11 CICIG investigators and two relatives.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Editing by Dave Graham and Peter Cooney

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