Guatemala court backs UN ant-graft chief against president

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — In a blunt rebuke to President Jimmy Morales, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ordered that the head of a U.N.-backed anti-corruption commission be let back in the country two weeks after Morales barred him as he moved to defang the investigative body.

The unanimous ruling late Sunday by the court’s five magistrates marked the second time in as many years that the court has reversed Morales’ efforts to keep Ivan Velasquez out of Guatemala. The commission’s chairman has pressed a number of high-profile graft probes, including one pending against the president himself.

There was no immediate public reaction from the president. His spokesman, Alfredo Brito, did not respond to phone calls Sunday night seeking comment.

Morales announced in late August that he would not renew the mandate of the commission for another two-year term, effectively giving it a year to wind down and end its activities.

A few days later the president said that Velasquez, a Colombian national who was in Washington at the time, would be prohibited from re-entering this Central American nation. Morales called him “a person who attacks order and public security in the country.”

Morales’ order touched off public protests in support of the body, and multiple appeals were promptly filed with the Constitutional Court.

In issuing its decision, the court said its ruling must be obeyed and cannot be appealed.

Morales said earlier this month that he was “not obligated to obey illegal rulings,” which observers interpreted as a clear allusion to the court’s previous checks on his actions.

Last year, Morales had declared Velasquez persona non grata and tried to have him expelled from Guatemala, but that move was blocked by the Constitutional Court.

Among the investigations that the commission, known as CICIG for its initials in Spanish, has brought in Guatemala was one that led to the resignation and jailing of former President Otto Perez Molina and his vice president. Others have ensnared dozens of politicians, public officials and businesspeople.

Morales is suspected in a case involving more than $1 million in purported illicit campaign financing. In August, Guatemala’s Supreme Court allowed a motion by CICIG and Guatemalan prosecutors seeking to lift the president’s immunity from prosecution to go to lawmakers. If they approve it, he would be opened up to possible prosecution.

Morales denies wrongdoing, but critics have seen his effort to wind down CICIG and bar Velasquez as a maneuver to protect himself as well as relatives and associates also in the sights of investigators.

The president had asked the United Nations to designate someone to replace Velasquez, but the world body opted to keep him in charge for the time being, working remotely from abroad. The U.N. defended CICIG and its commissioner, saying the body has played “a pivotal role in the fight against impunity in Guatemala.”