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Guatemala Congress rejects calls to lift president's immunity

[JURIST] The Congress of Guatemala [official website, in Spanish] voted Monday against lifting immunity for President Jimmy Morales over allegations of illegal campaign financing.This development comes just after a Guatemala congressional committee recommended [JURIST report] that Morales' immunity be voided to pave the way for an investigation into the matter by the country's attorney general and the UN. According to the attorney general and head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala [official website], Morales misappropriated [JURIST report] over $800,000 from his 2015 campaign. Julio Ixcamey, head of a five-member commission entrusted with the examination of the case, had stated on Monday that there was some evidence of unregistered campaign funds, but none linking Morales directly. Morales has thus far denied any wrongdoing.

Last week the Guatemala Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] ruled that legislators must review a request to lift Morales's immunity from prosecution, after finding that that there was sufficient evidence [JURIST report] to transfer the case to Congress. It was after this ruling that the five-member commission was formed to review the case and vote on the matter. Prior to that ruling, in late August, the Guatemala Constitutional Court [official website, in Spanish] issued [JURIST report] an order blocking the expulsion of Ivan Velasquez, the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), within hours of the expulsion. Morales claimed that Velasquez misused his authoritative position by pressuring the legislative process and publicly accusing Guatemalans of violations without respecting their due process rights. However, according to a spokesperson for the US State Department [press release], Velasquez has acted as the lead in efforts to combat corruption and impunity in Guatemala for a decade. Soon after the expulsion order, US, Germany, Canada, Spain, France, UK, Sweden, Switzerland and the EU issued a joint statement condemning Morales's actions. Citizens, in protest of Morales, declared a state of siege in the capital, and some ministers resigned. Since the action to lift Morales's presidential immunity failed to attain the required two-thirds or 105 votes [Al Jazeera report], it is now considered suspended and can be reconsidered in a subsequent session of Congress.

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