Guatemala court rules for return of chief of anti-graft body

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators take part in a protest against Guatemala President Jimmy Morales' decision to not renew the mandate of the U.N.-backed anti-graft commission, the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), in Guatemala City, Guatemala September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala’s constitutional court on Sunday made a provisional ruling by a unanimous vote to allow the chief of a United Nations-backed anti-graft body to return to the country, a judge told a news conference at the court.

President Jimmy Morales last month announced the shuttering of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and subsequently barred its head from returning to the country, a move that triggered global criticism and street protests across the Central American nation.

“The plenary of magistrates annuls the decision taken by President Jimmy Morales, which prevents the return of the head of CICIG,” said Dina Ochoa, one of five judges on the court.

The court will allow 48 hours to hear arguments against the ruling before coming to a final decision, a spokesman said.

Morales early this month ordered CICIG’s chief, Ivan Velasquez, to be denied entry back to the country after a visit to the United States, shortly after saying the commission’s mandate would end in a year.

The body brought down his predecessor with a corruption probe and sought to prosecute Morales, a former comedian, over illegal financing allegations.

CICIG said Velasquez is working in New York and following the case.

“We hope, given the order of the Constitutional Court, that he can in short time return to Guatemala,” CICIG’s spokesman Matias Ponce said in a statement.

Reporting by Sofia Menchu, Writing by Daina Beth Solomon