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News > Latin America

Guatemalan Senate Begins Corruption Investigation of President

  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017.

    Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 29 August 2018

Days after Congress revoked its 2017 vote granting President Jimmy Morales prosecutorial immunity, lawmakers announced a commission to investigate the president for illicit campaign finance.

Guatemala’s Congress announced on Tuesday the members of its National Investigatory Commission to probe President Jimmy Morales for alleged 2015 campaign finance violations.

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Congress member Luis Fernando Montenegro from Encounter For Guatemala (EG) will serve as president of the five-member committee and Carlos Santiago Najera of the National Unity of Hope (UNE) is secretary. Fidel Reyes Lee of UNE will serve as a spokesperson, along with Rudy Pereira of National Convergence Front (FCN-Nation) and Boris España. España is independent. None of the lottery-selected members belong to Morales’ ruling National Convergence Front (FCN).

The commission held a press conference on Tuesday saying they will adhere to the law and act impartially before what they described as "a delicate situation."

Last Thursday Guatemala's Congress revoked the president's prosecutorial immunity that lawmakers themselves unanimously voted to grant the head of state in September 2017. Legislators were feeling the pressure from Guatemala's attorney general’s office and the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) that had three times solicited Congress to rescind last year's controversial vote. 

The senators acknowledged there may be suspicion around the commission because all members are from oppositional parties. "There should be no worry in that regard. We were selected by lottery and I am sure we will do a proper, responsible job without any political or ideological bias. There is nothing to worry about," said Montenegro who will act as committee president.

The commission was not given a deadline to submit its findings to the full Senate, but Montenegro said they have two months to complete their work, adding he doesn’t think it will take the group that long to file their report.

"It is not appropriate to take time because this is a very complex job, but neither will we go with lightning speed and we will take the necessary time for the investigation," said the congressman.

In May 2016, five months after Morales was sworn in as president of Guatemala, a state auditor found that Morales’ political party had several campaign finance laws, including receiving illegal campaign donations of up to US$800,000 from prominent members of the business community for his 2015 presidential campaign. His team also failed to report any of the business donations.

Morales ran on an anti-corruption platform months after the removal of former president Otto Perez Molina was arrested, and later charged for taking bribes in exchange for lowering taxes for Guatemalan import businesses.

Montenegro told the press he will request the files to the investigation on Wednesday and distribute them to each committee member. Ironically, he himself is under investigation for corruption allegations but told the press that his role at the moment is to serve on the committee "for the country and I have to fulfill that requirement,” said the commission president.

Najera said all sessions will be held in Congress and will be public and transparent.

"We have to be respectful and compliant with the Constitution. Be fully confident that this commission will work in the letter of the law," said the committee secretary.

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