Guatemala Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ has requested that the country’s legislature initiate a preliminary hearing against President Jimmy Morales for alleged illicit campaign financing. The move has quelled doubts about Porras’ independence and further isolated Guatemala’s embattled president.
Porras made the announcement flanked by the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) and the heads of the electoral crime and anti-impunity units of the Attorney General’s Office, at a press conference on August 10. She has requested a preliminary hearing over allegations that Morales’ political party, the National Convergence Front (Frente de Convergencia Nacional – FCN-Nación), hid donations that several business leaders made to its election campaign in 2015.
More specifically, the investigation questions the payments made to election observers, called “fiscales de mesa,” during the first and second rounds of elections that year, which ended with Morales as Guatemala’s new head of state. According to the Attorney General’s Office, FCN-Nación only reported 103,706 quetzales (slightly less than $14,000) out of some 7.1 million quetzales (nearly $1 million) that it paid to election observers. Businesspeople belonging to the Guatemalan elite are believed to have provided the funds through donations to the party.
But Morales and FCN-Nación are not the only targets of the investigation. The Attorney General’s Office also has its sights set on the Encuentro por Guatemala (Together for Guatemala) party and its general secretary, Nineth Montenegro. The Attorney General is accusing the party of hiding up to 1.7 million quetzales (some $230,000) in campaign funding.
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The preliminary hearing request is the second that the Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG have requested against Morales. The first was on August 25, 2017, when Thelma Aldana was Attorney General. At the time, both organizations accused Morales and his party of failing to report donations and income that FCN-Nación received during its election campaign to the electoral authorities, along with other irregularities. Congressional allies of the president blocked the hearing.
Morales selected Porras as Aldana’s replacement in May, which is in keeping with Guatemalan law. In her last press conference as Attorney General, Aldana left the decision to pursue a second preliminary hearing in Porras’ hands, including new evidence that the investigation had uncovered. Porras has now decided to make her move and go forward with the hearing request.
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Morales’ isolation is growing. Porras’ request that Congress lift the president’s immunity so the preliminary hearing can be held could significantly shake his administration.
Guatemala’s president unleashed an open war on the Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG when they presented their first preliminary hearing request in August 2017. He declared CICIG commissioner Iván Velásquez persona non grata and orchestrated the removal of several officials who worked with the two groups’ investigators. According to various media reports, Morales has also used his foreign affairs ministry to lobby in Washington and the United Nations against Velásquez and the CICIG.
Porras had been silent regarding the possibility of a second preliminary hearing, and it seemed Morales had chosen an ally for the new attorney general. That changed on August 10.
Further complicating Morales’ precarious situation, former Foreign Minister Edgar Gutiérrez is bringing a case against the president for alleged sexual assault involving several potential victims.
But while a weaker coalition protecting the president in Congress may seem like another strike against him, it is unlikely to be enough to lift his immunity.