Top Guatemala court overturns bid to close U.N. anti-graft mission

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – Guatemala's top court on Wednesday, January 9, overturned a decision by President Jimmy Morales to shut down a United Nations anti-corruption mission to the central American country.

The constitutional court ordered government authorities to tell staff and civil servants to cooperate with the UN mission.

The court's decision was agreed by 4 of its 5 magistrates, with only president Dina Ochoa opposing the move.

It is the latest twist in a saga that erupted last year when the UN's International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) made a joint request with the state prosecutor's office to lift Morales's presidential immunity as part of a probe into illegal campaign financing by his FCN-Nacion party.

Morales responded by saying he would not renew the CICIG's mission when it officially ends in September, and later tried unsuccessfully to block the mission's head, Ivan Velasquez, from entering the country.

Last week, Morales tried to block another CICIG investigator, Yinel Osorio from entering the country, but that was overturned by the courts.

On Monday, January 6, Guatemala's foreign minister Sandra Jovel told the UN that Morales had decided to unilaterally terminate the mission's mandate.

However, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres insisted Guatemala was legally obligated to maintain the mission, which began in 2006.

Dozens of people gathered in front of the court building in support of the 4 magistrates who suspended the closure.

The attorney general's office lashed out at the decision, accusing the 4 magistrates of committing serious errors of judgment and threatening an investigation.

Morales' government said it would analyze the ruling before making an official statement.

Anti-Morales protests

Meanwhile, a loose alliance of indigenous organizations, farmers and student groups announced street demonstrations against Morales next Monday, January 14.

The Constitutional Court urged Guatemalan authorities to instruct staff to cooperate with the CICIG.

"The notification to public officials obliges them to comply with the ruling," the court said.

Morales had originally supported the CICIG and was elected president in 2015 on a promise of clean government after his predecessor Otto Perez was forced to step down after being charged with corruption.

Perez remains in pre-trial detention while his former vice-president Roxana Baldetti was sentenced to 15 years in October for embezzlement.

Morales grew hostile towards CICIG once it began probing the funding for his successful presidential bid.

CICIG and state prosecutors have presented evidence that Morales's FCN-Nacion party failed to report nearly $1 million in financing to electoral authorities.

It's not just Morales who is in the CICIG's sights, though. His son and brother were charged with tax evasion and money laundering in 2016. –