U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday that he continued to fully support the head of a U.N. anti-corruption commission in Guatemala despite the attempt by the president of that country to expel him.
Guterres said he was shocked by President Jimmy Morales’ order to remove Ivan Velasquez. Speaking at a news conference in Ramallah, West Bank, the U.N. chief noted he had met with Morales just days before and said that while the Guatemalan leader had expressed concerns, he didn’t ask for Velasquez’s removal.
Guterres praised the commission’s work in helping Guatemalan prosecutors attack corruption, a campaign that has proved popular in the Central American nation.
Guatemala’s Constitutional Court suspended Morales’ order Sunday so it could study the legality of the action.
The president issued his expulsion order two days after Velasquez and Guatemala’s chief prosecutor announced they were seeking to lift Morales’ immunity from prosecution in order to investigate alleged illegal campaign financing.
Meeting with mayors
On Tuesday, Morales made his first public appearance since the crisis exploded, meeting with loyal mayors who voiced their support for him. The government distributed a video clip through its Twitter account that was just 14 seconds of mayors applauding Morales.
The mayors may have some self-interest in seeing Velasquez go. The commission he leads issued a report in 2015 saying that drug trafficking financed many political campaigns, especially in mayoral races.
Velasquez and chief prosecutor Thelma Aldana also have targeted several political parties, including Morales’ National Convergence Front. Prosecutors allege that about $825,000 of financing for his 2015 campaign was hidden and other expenditures had no explainable source of funding.
Guatemalans are now keeping their eyes on the nation’s courts. The Constitutional Court is expected to make a final decision on the legality of Morales’ expulsion order, and the Supreme Court is considering prosecutors’ request to strip Morales’ immunity.