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The U.N.-backed organization has been trying to investigate President Jimmy Morales on corruption charges.
Before the 72-hour deadline imposed by the Guatemalan government, eleven members of the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) left the country “for holidays,” according to an official statement.
CICIG’s spokesperson Matias Ponce confirmed that the investigators left the Central American country but suggested they might come back soon and that their absence is not in line with the government’s demands.
“The international members of the CICIG are on holidays outside of the national territory of Guatemala,” said Ponce.
On Tuesday Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry demanded the 11 CICIG members return their temporal work permits, which were granted in October when President Jimmy Morales decided to revoke all their visas and end CICIG’s mandate in the country by 2019.
By Ponce’s comments, it’s not clear if the 11 members will eventually return to the country and resume their duties.
The government, however, attributed their exit to their pressure on the organization and the order by the Guatemalan Institute for Migration, thanking CICIG’s members for their “respect for sovereignty and the rule of law.”
The Constitutionality Court’s spokesperson, Santiago Palomo, said in interview with Emisoras Unidas that judges would meet on Friday afternoon to discuss the situation of CICIG’s members and the government’s order to cancel their visas.
Judge Angelica Tellez, from an appeal court in Guatemala, decided to “suspend” Morales’s order to expel the members by Friday.
Guatemala’s Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras declared that an investigation was opened against Foreign Ministry Sandra Jovel for revoking the visas of the investigators after an organization called “Alliance for the Reform,” formed by about 30 social and human rights groups, filed an appeal.
One of the targeted CICIG officials, Cesar Giron, led a fraud case against the president’s brother and son, which led to a trial that began last year, and is still ongoing.
CICIG said the investigators pursue “high-impact cases” and could be targeted for criminal prosecution without immunity protection.
When asked about the issue on Thursday, Morales said the government took the decision to revoke the visas because all U.N. legal procedures had been taken without success, and that he didn’t incur in any illegality while doing so.
According to Morales, the U.N. has been unresponsive to Guatemala’s demands.
“What happens if I call you 20 times and you don’t act? There’s no dialogue. In Guatemala law must be respected,” said Morales.
Opposition groups have interpreted Morales’s decision as a desperate move to avoid investigations on him and close allies, as the CICIG has been trying to investigate him on corruption allegations while the Congress keeps blocking every try,
A spokesperson for Antonio Guterres, the U.N. Secretary General, who has openly supported CICIG’s duties in the Central American country, declared his solidarity with the organziation and Velasquez, regretting Guatemala’s crusade against them.
In the statement, Guterres’ spokesperson said the duty of CICIG has been combating impunity and corruption, and that the Secretary General was hoping their visas were renewed.
CICIG was established over a decade ago with the authority to conduct independent investigations and work with the country’s prosecutors. It has often clashed with Morales, whose party is close to the military officers responsible for many human rights' violations during the civil war.
The CICIG brought down Morales’ predecessor, Otto Perez, with a corruption probe and sought to prosecute Morales over illegal financing allegations. Morales and Perez have both denied wrongdoing, but evidence has been accumulating against them.