Guatemala court approves petition to remove president's immunity

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Guatemala's supreme court endorsed a petition on Wednesday to withdraw President Jimmy Morales' immunity from prosecution on allegations of campaign finance fraud.

The court ruling is a response to the request filed August 10 by UN-backed commission against corruption in Guatemala (CICIG) and the state prosecutor's office. Both of these agencies alleged that Morales was involved in breaking campaign finance rules in 2015, according to regional news outlet El Economista.

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At that time, Morales was secretary general and legal representative of the National Front of Convergence party (FCN-Nación), which received US$1mn from businessmen for the electoral campaign.

According to the inquiries, these resources would not have been recorded in the accounts of the political group nor were they reported to the supreme electoral tribunal (TSE).

Following the supreme court's resolution, congress will now have to form an inquiry commission composed of five legislators. These lawmakers will be tasked with studying the case and provide their conclusions at the end of their inquiry.

At that time, the 158 deputies would be required to vote to determine whether Morales's immunity is withdrawn or not. The vote of 105 congressmen is needed to endorse the decision.

The head of communications for the presidency, Alfredo Brito, said that the executive is respectful of the court's autonomy in the ruling, according to the El Economista story, which added that opposition lawmaker Sandra Morán believed it would be difficult to obtain 105 votes in congress due to the alliances that exist with the ruling party.

"The official bench will protect the president," she said. "From my point of view there are enough signs for Morales to be investigated, but the same groups that protected him in the previous petition will protect him again."

This is the third time the prosecution has requested that Morales's immunity be withdrawn. The first was in August of last year and also related to electoral issues.

According to previous investigations, the party failed to comply with the TSE and concealed more than a million dollars. That request was also approved by the high court, but the lawmakers did not support the withdrawal of immunity.

The second occurred last October after media revealed that Jimmy Morales received an unauthorized US$60,000 bonus from the army. At that time the court rejected the petition and the president returned the money.