Guatemala Congress panel backs ending president's immunity over probe

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 11, 2017 1:53 AM

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - A Guatemalan congressional committee on Sunday recommended that President Jimmy Morales lose his immunity from prosecution to face a probe into suspected campaign financing irregularities, paving the way for a full vote in Congress in the coming days.

The decision by the five-member congressional committee means that Congress could vote on its recommendation as early as this week. Presidential immunity can be lifted with the backing of at least two-thirds of the 158-member Congress.

Congressman Julio Ixcamey, head of the committee, told Reuters "the decision was made to remove the president's immunity" and that more details on how the matter will proceed would be given at a news conference at 11 a.m. on Monday.

The attorney general of Guatemala and a U.N. anti-graft body said last month they are seeking to investigate Morales over the illegal financing allegation. Two days later, Morales declared the head of the U.N. body "persona non grata."

Prosecutors may struggle to win enough support in Congress to strip Morales of immunity since the U.N.-backed International Commission against Impunity (CICIG) is investigating all the major parties over suspected illegal financing.

Under the leadership of Ivan Velasquez, a veteran Colombian prosecutor, the CICIG has caused problems for Morales, first investigating his son and brother, and then seeking to prosecute him over some $800,000 in allegedly unexplained campaign funds.

Morales, a former comedian, has denied any wrongdoing.

The Guatemalan president won office in 2015 running on a platform of honest governance after his predecessor, Otto Perez Molina, was forced to resign and imprisoned in a multi-million dollar graft case stemming from a CICIG investigation.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Editing by Nick Macfie)