Morales says corruption watchdog threatens Guatemala peace

United Nations (United States) (AFP) –


Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales denounced a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission as a threat to peace Tuesday in his most virulent attack to date on the controversial watchdog.

Morales said last month that he would not ask the UN to renew the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, after it twice asked for his presidential impunity to be lifted in order to investigate graft allegations.

The UN has so far stood behind CICIG, which works with Guatemalan state prosecutors, and its Colombian head Ivan Velasquez who has been banned by Morales from entering the country.

In a speech on the opening day of the annual UN General Assembly in New York, Morales said that CICIG had become an instrument of persecution in Guatemala.

"CICIG has become a threat to peace in Guatemala," said the former television comedian.

"It has established a system of terror, a system where anyone who thinks differently is persecuted or investigated."

He also accused CICIG of violating Guatemala's constitution by "manipulating justice" and undermining the principles of "the presumption of innocence and due process."

Velasquez had politicized justice and was fomenting a atmosphere of instability that undermined national security, he added.

Morales had initially been a supporter of CICIG and promised during his successful 2015 run for the presidency to request an extension of its mandate -- which is currently due to expire next year -- until 2021.

CICIG's investigations into allegations of tax evasion led to Morales's predecessor Otto Perez and former vice president Roxana Baldetti being charged with corruption. They are both currently behind bars awaiting trial.

But Morales turned hostile when CICIG began trying to probe the funding behind his 2015 election campaign.

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

In his speech, Morales called upon UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint a new head for CICIG, saying that Guatemala had become politically "polarized like never before."

Guterres, who is due to meet with Morales at a closed-door meeting later Tuesday, has rejected previous calls to replace Velasquez.

Set up in 2006, the mission is an independent body with investigative and prosecutorial powers. Its success in tackling corruption has inspired calls for similar bodies to be set up in other Central American countries.