A court in Guatemala ruled Thursday to remove the U.N.-backed Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG ) from the plaintiffs side in a fraud case against a brother and a son of President Jimmy Morales, who ordered the commission’s early expulsion from the country.
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Judges Edna Maxia, Jaime Gonzalez and Juan Aceituno declared that CICIG’s legal representative, Amanda Trejo, must abandon the case as she was not present in court without giving an excuse.
The case involves Sammy Morales and Jose Manuel Morales, brother and son of Guatemala’s president, and 23 other people.
Every defense representative was able to speak after the decision was taken, and they supported it.
“They’re using a provisional appeal as an argument,” said Oscar Poroj, the brother’s representative, “but I can tell you the CICIG doesn’t exist anymore.”
The CICIG declared it presented a valid leave of absence request to the Crime Management Unit on Wednesday at 17:45 citing the president’s decision to expel the international institution on Jan. 7, a decision later overruled by the Constitutionality Court. In the notification, the lawyer asks the judges to not consider her absence as abandonment.
But the notification was brought to the court by a messenger at 9:25 a.m., in the middle of the session, 25 minutes too late.
Judge Maixa said that the case couldn’t be postponed forever and dismissed the notification for being “out of time.” The past hearing should’ve taken place on Jan. 9, but Maixa was on leave because of her mother’s health. Trejo had also presented a leave of absence at the time, as President Morales declared the end of CICIG’s mandate just two days before that.
CICIG’s members have been absent from several cases in which they collaborate with the Public Ministry after Morales’s decision.
Matias Ponce, CICIG’s spokesperson, declared that the leave of absence was presented on time.
“We presented an excuse on behalf of CICIG for the Property Registration Case. As we said, in the context of the contingency plan, the CICIG has adopted measures to continue supporting the work of the Public Ministry,” said Ponce.
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The case is centered on three irregular food contracts for US$36,000 that go back to 2013, when Morales was still not the president but a comedian.
Morales’s relatives were arrested in 2017, but both they were allowed probation while the case was solved.
Sammy Morales is well known to Guatemalans for having co-produced ‘Moralejas,’ with his brother, a comedy show often described as racist, sexist and classist.
Regarding the tribunal's decision, Sammy Morales said he couldn’t give his opinion.
“I just want to remind you that I have been present in this process since the first day. I’m respectful of justice,” he said.
The president accused the U.N. anti-graft institution of overstretching its faculties, committing crimes during investigations and having political interests that affect Guatemala’s sovereignty. Detractors of Morales argue that his efforts to expel it as soon as possible are likely related to their investigations of members of his family and himself over illegal financing allegations.
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 National Convergence Front is close to military officers responsible for many human rights' violations during the country’s civil war.