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BRIEF

Corruption Scandals Threaten to Undermine Guatemala President

ELITES AND CRIME / 15 SEP 2016 BY MICHAEL LOHMULLER EN

Guatemala President Jimmy Morales finds himself mired in several corruption scandals involving family members and his vice president, a severe blow to the credibility of a political newcomer whose campaign slogan was "Not Corrupt, Not a Thief."

According to ContraPoder, the son of Vice President Jafeth Cabrera accepted $500,000 in campaign donations from Guatemalan drug trafficker and former military officer Marlon Francesco Monroy Meoño, alias "El Fantasma" (The Ghost).

Monroy, who was captured in May by authorities in the city of Antigua, reportedly told US drug officials of the half-million dollar payment, which was given in exchange for the right to name four military officials to government posts. The appointments, however, were never made, and a judge recently approved Monroy's extradition to the United States to face drug charges.

There is suspicion surrounding the spending habits of the Cabrera family prior to the election, reported ContraPoder. For instance, the family moved into a house in Guatemala City that appeared to be beyond their economic means at the time.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles 

In addition to his vice president, President Morales' son and brother have been implicated in a corruption scandal within Guatemala's state procurement agency (Registro General de la Propiedad – RGP).

Investigations into the RGP by the Attorney General's Office and the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) led to the arrest of 22 people on September 1 for embezzlement and false contracting. This included former RGP director Anabella de León.

During preliminary hearings following the arrests, the name of Morales' son, José Manuel Morales Marroquín, arose in connection to a 2012 banquet the RGP contracted to the restaurant Fulanos & Menganos. That event allegedly never occurred, despite a payment of 90,000 quetzales (roughly $11,400 at 2012 exchange rates) that was made to the restaurant.

Prosecutors suspect José Manuel, with the aid of his uncle Samuel Morales, managed the receipts and invoices for the restaurant and was responsible for the fraudulent billing.

José Manuel voluntarily testified before Guatemalan officials on September 7, with Samuel Morales following suit on September 12. On September 13, President Morales publicly acknowledged the involvement of his family members in the scandal.

"My wife and I fully support our son and believe in the honor of my brother," Morales said during a two-minute video address. (See below) "At the same time, we respect the institutions responsible for imparting justice in our country, and under no circumstances will we interfere in the case," he added. 

According to Nómada, the Fulanos & Menganos restaurant is where Morales launched his presidential campaign in April 2015, and is where he often gave press interviews. The owner of the restaurant, Gilmar Othmar Sánchez Herrera, is also a congressional representative with Morales' National Convergence Front (Frente de Convergencia Nacional – FCN). The two are said to be friends, and Soy502 reported that Jimmy Morales is the godfather of Gilmar Othmar's daughter.

Guatemala's Attorney General and CICIG announced that investigations are ongoing in order to "determine and verify the level of criminal responsibility" of all individuals linked to the case.

InSight Crime Analysis

The accusations implicating President Morales' vice president, son, and brother in illicit activity remain unproven and in a preliminary stage. Nonetheless, they will weigh heavily on an administration attempting to differentiate itself from the previous corruption-plagued regime of ex-President Otto Pérez Molina.

SEE ALSO: InDepth: Elites and Organized Crime

Following a series of historic corruption scandals uncovered by Guatemalan prosecutors and the CICIG, which led to the downfall of Pérez Molina, the Guatemalan public is acutely aware of and sensitive to government malfeasance. Morales, a former comedian that had never held political office, tapped into those concerns during his electoral campaign, presenting himself as an untainted political outsider who would crack down on government corruption.

As such, the scandal involving Morales' son and brother in particular may throw his administration into a political crisis. Analysts consulted by elPeriódico said the dangers for Morales will only grow if the case advances to a criminal trial, potentially precipitating a new round of public outrage and widespread distrust of elites widely considered to be self-serving and corrupt. 

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