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Crisis escalates in Guatemala as President Jimmy Morales investigated for corruption

Posted: Monday, August 28, 2017. 8:28 a.m. CST.

By BBN Staff: Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, the comedian with zero political experience turned president after the previous government was toppled by corruption charges, is now himself under investigation for corruption and links to organized crime.

Morales, however, in an attempt to stop the investigation against his government, has declared the United Nations-backed anti-corruption chief heading the investigating against him, a person-non grata. Morales’ request to have the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) ousted from the country was rejected by Guatemala’s constitutional court, heaving the country into another period of political uncertainty and turmoil, just two years removed from the previous government facing the same.

Morales announced the expulsion of CICIG head, Ivan Velasquez, on Sunday via a post on his Twitter account. The announcements were made less than 48 hours after Velásquez and Thelma Aldana, the attorney general, asked the court to strip Morales of his political immunity in order to proceed with charges linked to illegal campaign funds allegedly received by his political party, the National Convergence Front (FCN), during the 2015 election.

Prosecutors allege that Morales has refused to account for more than $800,000 in campaign financing and had hidden his own party’s accounts. Morales, who ran for president under the slogan “neither corrupt nor a crook”, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The investigation of election campaign funds is part of a sweeping inquiry into Guatemala’s deep-seated problem of political parties accepting money from organised crime groups and powerful business leaders in exchange for public contracts, kickbacks and protection from the law.

Prosecutors moved against Morales while he was in New York trying – but failing – to persuade the UN secretary general to fire Velásquez. Judges will rule on the immunity request today. If it is lifted and congress votes in favour of impeachment, Morales could be arrested within days.

Activists, however, fear Morales and his military advisers are unlikely to accept the same fate that led to the fall of former president and military general Otto Pérez Molina and vice-president Roxanna Baldetti. The pair were jailed immediately after being impeached in 2015, amid an unprecedented wave of mass protests.

Morales’ FCN party was formed by a group of hardline military officials suspected of grave human rights violations during the Central American’s country’s 36-year civil war in which 200,000 people, mainly indigenous civilians, were killed.

Morales, of course, had taken a hard-line stance on the Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute during his campaign and after becoming president he falsely accused Belize of being wrongfully responsible for the death of a 13-year-old Guatemalan boy. The Organization of American States (OAS), however, had performed an investigation and vindicated Belize and justified the Belizean patrol’s use of force after coming under fire first. Morales had protested the outcome of that investigation as well.

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