Guatemala President Jimmy Morales is seeking to deal a final blow in his political war against the international anti-corruption commission that has been glued to him since he began his term.
His latest move has been to order the Foreign Affairs Ministry not to renew the visas and diplomatic clearances of 11 investigators assigned to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) and two of his own relatives, stripping them of their immunity.
On December 18, Guatemalan immigration agents arrived at the CICIG headquarters to announce the decision to those affected and inform them that they had 72 hours to leave the country.
All those affected are police, legal and financial investigators who have participated in many of the high-risk investigations that the CICIG and the Attorney General’s Office have undertaken in recent years. The investigations center mainly on corruption among government officials, business leaders, and organized crime networks.
The Morales administration announced its decision in the official government publication Diario de Centroamérica. In it, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said it would not renew the visas of César Rincón, Luis Fernando Orozco, Yilen Osorio and Roque Veliz, among others, according to a report from Prensa Libre.
Orozco, a Colombian citizen, is the CICIG investigator who led the landmark “La Línea” case, which uncovered a massive corruption scheme within Guatemala’s customs agency. It implicated dozens of officials and businesspeople, including former President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, both of whom are currently in prison. Orozco is also the lead CICIG agent on the illicit campaign financing case involving the National Convergence Front (Frente de Convergencia Nacional – FCN-Nación), President Morales’ political party.
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La Línea served as a jumping off point for additional investigations as it implicated businesspeople and politicians in other corruption schemes, such as the “Construction and Corruption” case and the “Influence Traffickers” case, both of which accuse several construction companies and politicians of bribery.
Rincón, another of the affected agents, represented the CICIG in the “Property Registry as Booty” case, which implicated Morales’ brother and son. And Vicenzo Caruso, an Italian who will also lose his visa, was the one who filed the petition to withdraw Morales’ immunity so he could be charged and tried for alleged campaign financing violations.
“The decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala to revoke and not renew the visas of officials of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has no legal basis and, therefore, is arbitrary. The only reason expressed, both by the President of the Republic and the minister, designating them as terrorists with pending investigations in their countries of origin is false as opportunely demonstrated with the certificates of lack of a criminal record provided to the Foreign Ministry,” he said.
As of the date of this report, the Guatemalan government has not officially communicated its decision to the CICIG itself, nor has it issued any further comments to the press.
The CICIG requested visa renewals for 42 of its employees two months ago. Of them, the 11 whose visa renewals the Morales government denied are among the commission’s most important investigators, having worked on the very cases that motivated the president to launch his crusade against the CICIG and Velásquez in the first place.
InSight Crime Analysis
The primary and most serious effect of the administration’s decision is that the international officials will lose the immunity granted to them by the agreement that created the CICIG 12 years ago. Without their immunity, the investigators may be subject to criminal prosecution and imprisonment, an investigator closely following the war between Morales and the commission told InSight Crime in Guatemala City.
With this action, Morales wants to bury the CICIG once and for all and win his battle for control over the corruption investigations that have been pummeling his government since his term began in 2016.
Thanks in large part to a loss of support from Guatemala’s economic elite following investigations involving some of its most important members, the CICIG has been in an isolated position since mid-2017. It was then that Morales made his first major move, when he attempted to declare Velásquez persona non grata. The Constitutional Court thwarted his plan, however, and Velásquez, a Colombian national, was able to remain in the country and continue as commissioner.
Meanwhile, in response to Morales’ latest attack on the CICIG, a trade association called the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (Comité Coordinador de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras – CACIF) backed him up when on December 19 it asked for “respect for the decisions of this country’s institutions.” CACIF counts among its members some of the most powerful business leaders in Guatemala.
Morales has also been garnering support from none other than US President Donald Trump’s administration, which has come out in his support at critical moments in the situation with the commission. For example, just when the Guatemalan president announced that he would end the CICIG’s mandate -- set to expire in September 2019 -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used his Twitter account to say that Morales was an important ally in the fight against drug trafficking.
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Another olive branch from Washington to Morales came in the form of almost 40 J8 military jeeps delivered in October to the Guatemalan army. The jeeps seem an apt means for the Trump administration to weigh in on the August 31 controversy involving several similar vehicles surrounding CICIG headquarters and the US embassy shortly before Morales announced his decision to end the commission’s mandate, despite the fact that their intended use was to combat drug trafficking.
By removing immunity from key CICIG investigators, Jimmy Morales -- at one point surrounded by a storm of corruption investigations and accusations -- has taken another step to shield himself, his government and his allies from a future that could include a prison sentence.