UN anti-graft body in Guatemala says visas denied, revoked

Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales speaks during the second Conference for Prosperity and Security in Central America at State Department on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

ESQUIPULAS, Guatemala (AP) — A U.N. commission investigating corruption in Guatemala said Tuesday that President Jimmy Morales’ government has denied or revoked visas for about a dozen of its personnel including staffers probing the president, his relatives and the ruling party.

The announcement came the same day Morales survived a third attempt to lift the immunity from prosecution he enjoys as a sitting president, with congress barring a probe against him for purported illicit campaign financing from moving forward.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala said in a statement that the Foreign Ministry notified it Monday that three current visas were withdrawn, eight were denied for officials and two were denied for family members.

Among those affected is Colombian lawyer Luis Fernando Orozco, who is investigating Morales over purported illegal campaign financing during the 2015 election.

Another is Cesar Rincon, also a Colombian lawyer, and the commission’s representative on a case against Morales’ son and brother over alleged falsification of documents to obtain government funds.

Rincon is also the lead investigator in the investigation against former President Otto Perez Molina, who was forced to resign in 2015 and is behind bars awaiting trial.

The commission known as CICIG for its initials in Spanish said it was evaluating the situation.

There was no immediate public comment from the government.

Morales, who campaigned on the slogan “neither corrupt nor a thief,” has repeatedly denied involvement in any corruption and calls attempts to investigate him politically motivated.

However critics see his moves to hamstring CICIG as protecting his own interests and those close to him.

Morales recently declined to give the commission another two-year mandate, giving it until the end of its current term next September to wrap up its work and leave.

He has also refused to let CICIG chief Ivan Velasquez, a Colombian national, return to the country from a work trip to the United States, defying multiple court orders in the process.

Working hand-in-hand with Guatemalan prosecutors, the commission has brought corruption cases against dozens of powerful politicians, public officials and businesspeople.

The visa denials also affect Yilen Osorio, who heads up an investigation of alleged bribery implicating the current vice president of congress and others; and Vicenzo Caruso, an Italian investigator who last month pressed the case before congress to lift Morales’ immunity.

The president is suspected of receiving at least $1 million in undeclared campaign contributions.

Tuesday’s congressional vote on the matter saw 82 lawmakers in the 158-seat chamber siding with the president. Under Guatemalan law, 105 votes either way are required to either withdraw or maintain the president’s immunity. The result means that the measure is put on hold and can be revived by any lawmaker for a new vote.

Twice last year prosecutors tried without success to have the president’s immunity lifted. The first time, the Supreme Court allowed the request to progress to congress where it did not get enough votes. The second time, the court did not allow it to progress that far.

CICIG had sought visa renewals for 42 of its personnel nearly two months ago, and approvals were given for staffers not involved in high-profile cases.

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Associated Press writer Sonia Perez D. reported from Esquipulas, Guatemala, and Sonny Figueroa reported from Guatemala City.

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