Guatemalan president rejects coup rumors amid scandals

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales rejected rumors of a possible coup d’etat on Thursday, shortly after his brother and elder son were sentenced to house arrest while being investigated for fraud.

Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales delivers a speech at National Palace in Guatemala City, Guatemala, February 16, 2017. Guatemalan Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

“They have even generated rumors of a well-founded coup d’etat,” Morales said during an event at the presidential palace. “I was democratically elected and if at some point I should democratically hand over the position ... I have said that’s why I came.”

The president, a 47-year-old comedian who came to power a year ago on a platform of fighting corruption, gave no details and left the event without taking questions from reporters.

Last September, a judge barred Samuel “Sammy” Morales, an older brother and a close adviser to the president, and Jose Manuel Morales, one of his four sons, from leaving the country over suspicious payments linked to the mother of Jose Manuel’s then-girlfriend in 2013.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

Separately, Edgar Ovalle, a retired military official and member of Congress for the ruling National Convergence Front party (FCN), faces a preliminary hearing for his alleged participation in the forced disappearance of at least five people in 1983, when he was in charge of military intelligence.

Both cases have hurt the popularity of Morales, who won the presidency after a series of scandals that ended with the resignation and arrest of former President Otto Perez.

Morales, who had a 71 percent approval rating in January 2016, had a 56 percent approval rating last month, according to a CIG/Gallup poll.

The most recent coup in Guatemalan history took place in 1983, when former dictator Efrain Rios Montt was overthrown just over a year after taking power.

In 1993, former President Jorge Serrano attempted to dissolve the Congress and Judiciary, but was forced to flee to Panama days later.

Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Natalie Schachar; Editing by Leslie Adler