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News > Latin America

Guatemala: Supreme Court Allows Pre-Trial Against President Morales

  • President Jimmy Morales sworn in after winning the 2015 election.

    President Jimmy Morales sworn in after winning the 2015 election. | Photo: EFE

Published 23 August 2018
Opinion

This is the second time Guatemala's Supreme Court has urged Congress to review president Jimmy Morales' immunity.

Guatemala's Supreme Court has begun processing a request for the withdrawal of president Jimmy Morales and Nineth Montenegro's immunity possibly paving the way for an investigation and charges relating to illegal electoral financing.

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Morales’ pre-trial would go to Congress, where legislators will have to form an investigation commission to review the case against him presented by the General Attorney’s Office and the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and hear the president’s defense

Members of the commission will be randomly selected. After reviewing all the pertinent information, they will present a report to the plenary for legislators to vote on whether or not Morales should lose his immunity.

According to the investigations, in 2015, when Morales was a presidential candidate and secretary general of the conservative National Convergence Front party, he received over US$1 million in unreported campaign contributions, breaking the regulations put in place by the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE).

Stripping Morales of his immunity is a difficult task since it requires the support of two-thirds of Guatemala's Congress.  

The first request was made last August after the former attorney general, Maria Consuelo Porras, found evidence he had received illegal campaign funds in 2015. The application was voted down in September 2017 by 104 legislators.

Analysts claim Guatemalans should not expect the same outcome because Congress was weakened after the 2017 decision to block the investigation against Morales and their attempts to reform the penal code to benefit particular groups. The people deemed those attempts as a “Pact of the Corrupted.”

Most legislators have argued they will need to read the legislative commission’s report before announcing a decision.  

Luis Hernandez, leader of the parliamentary bloc Reformer Movement, told the local press “last year we voted in favor of not removing the president's immunity… We will evaluate if there is enough proof.”

The opposition bloc has issued similar statements. However, there is more willing to allow an investigation into the claims against the president. Carlos Barreda, of the National Unity of Hope bloc, said they would wait for the report, but also stressed “we have seen the most prudent thing is that the president can be investigated.

The case against Montenegro, of the Encounter for Guatemala Party, will go directly to a judge, who after hearing all interested parts will have to recommend the required action on her parliamentary immunity.

The case against her is based on her party's non-compliance with the term limits to submit the financial statements for the last semester of 2015 to the TSE’s general inspection.

Oscar Schaad, the prosecutor against electoral crimes, said that he would ask for the elimination of Montenegro’s party as he has done with the president’s party.

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