Political News

A brief explainer on Guatemala's UN anti-corruption agency

Posted August 27

— Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales announced Sunday he was expelling the head of the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, known as CICIG in Spanish. But the move was quickly blocked by the country's top court. Background on the commission and its role in Guatemala:

WHAT IS CICIG?

Guatemala's Congress, under heavy international pressure, voted in 2007 to ratify the commission, which is made up of foreign experts to help local law enforcement build cases and gain expertise in fighting organized crime and police corruption. The country had seen an explosion of drug gang violence and corruption in the decade after the end of a 1960-1996 civil war in which 200,000 people died. Opponents said the commission was an unconstitutional violation of Guatemala's sovereignty.

WHAT HAS IT DONE?

The commission began by going after police corruption and drug gang enforcers and kidnappers. Its recommendations led to the firing or resignation of more than 1,700 police officers, several senior prosecutors and six Supreme Court judges.

Its scope rapidly expanded to broader political corruption. In 2008, it helped prosecutors build a case accusing former President Alfonso Portillo of stealing millions from the country's defense department. While a local court absolved him, Portillo was extradited to the U.S. and served time on money laundering charges. In 2010, it helped clear President Alvaro Colom of allegations he'd orchestrated the murder of a prominent lawyer. It also helped prosecute former defense and interior ministers for cases including the slayings of prison inmates.

Its crowning achievement was the 2015 resignation of then-President Otto Perez Molina and his Vice-President Roxana Baldetti, who remain jailed awaiting trial on a variety of corruption charges. The wide-ranging investigations have swept up many business people, politicians and bureaucrats. A judge this year gave prosecutors the green light to move ahead with a corruption probe of President Jimmy Morales' son and brother.

ACTION AGAINST MORALES

The country's chief prosecutor, together with Velasquez, announced Friday that they were moving to strip Morales himself of his immunity from prosecution in order to probe alleged irregularities in the financing of his 2015 presidential campaign. If the Supreme Court approved the request, it would be up to Congress to decide on removing immunity.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE COMMISSION NOW?

Morales didn't address the future of the commission itself. Its current mandate, approved by the government and the U.N., extends through September 2019. The Constitutional Court injunction blocking expulsion of Velasquez means Morales the future of order itself is in question.

Guatemalan political forces have repeatedly tried to get rid of the commission, but public and international pressure has forced them to back off and renew its two-year terms.

The citizens of other countries in the region have watched its work admiringly, but paradoxically its success in prosecuting top politicians in Guatemala has made it unlikely that another leader in the region would invite the creation of such a commission.

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