By Sofia Menchu
GUATEMALACITY (Reuters) – Guatemala has taken steps to expel 11 foreign investigators for a U.N.-backed anti-corruption body from the country, it said on Tuesday, further stripping power from the group whose leader was forced out by President Jimmy Morales several months ago.
The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, was established over a decade ago with the authority to conduct independent investigations and work with the country’s prosecutors. It has often clashed with Morales.
The CICIG brought down Morales’ predecessor, Otto Perez, with a corruption probe and sought to prosecute Morales over illegal financing allegations. Morales and Perez have both denied wrongdoing.
In September, Morales banned CICIG’s head, Ivan Velasquez, from entering the country and said the entity’s mandate would end in a year. Critics called the actions a “constitutional crisis.”
Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry published in an official gazette on Thursday that it had revoked visas and immunity for 11 CICIG investigators and two relatives.
It was not clear if that represented all the CICIG investigators in the country. A CICIG spokesman could not be reached immediately for comment.
One of the targeted CICIG officials, Cesar Giron, led a fraud case against the president’s brother and son, which led to a trial that began last year and is still ongoing.
CICIG said the investigators pursue “high-impact cases” and could be targeted for criminal prosecution without immunity protection.
“This measure seeks to affect the independence of their work against the illegal and clandestine security apparatus,” CICIG said in a statement, referring to shadowy groups that developed in Guatemala’s civil war and continue to play a role in organised crime and human right violations. CICIG’s mandate is to weaken such organizations.
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Leslie Adler)