Guatemala's CICIG: UN-backed anti-corruption body shuts its doors

In its 12 years of existence, CICIG has brought down high-ranking officials, including a president and vice president.

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    An activist holds a sing that reads in Spanish 'Thanks CICIG' at the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity headquarters in Guatemala City [Moises Castillo/AP Photo]
    An activist holds a sing that reads in Spanish 'Thanks CICIG' at the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity headquarters in Guatemala City [Moises Castillo/AP Photo]

    Guatemala City - A UN-backed anti-corruption commission that has brought down a Guatemalan president and vice president, as well as other high-ranking officials, will shut its doors on Tuesday after 12 years of operations.

    Last year, President Jimmy Morales, a critic of the body, said he would not renew the mandate of the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

    "Thank God we kicked them out," Morales said on Sunday during a public speech, without naming CICIG directly.

    "We must never wait or allow them to come to trample us," he added.

    CICIG was established in 2006 to help combat impunity and corruption that has flourished in the decade since the signing of the peace accords that ended the country's 36-year-long internal armed conflict. It began operating the following year.

    Morales began waging a campaign against CICIG in 2017, after the commission opened an investigation into the president, his brother and son.

    In its 12 years of existence, CICIG played an important role in uncovering and prosecuting officials, drug-traffickers and business representatives in hundreds of cases. 

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    The international body achieved notoriety following the landmark investigation into a criminal network operating within the tax and customs agency during the administration of President Otto Perez Molina (2012-2015). The scandal led to the resignation of Perez Molina and his vice president, Roxana Baldetti, who are currently being prosecuted for their part in the scheme.

    Corruption fight's future

    Guatemalan officials have stated that anti-corruption efforts will continue in the country within the Public Prosecutor's office. Remaining investigations are to be transferred to the Office of the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity (FECI) within the Public Prosecutor's office.

    CICIG's exit has generated widespread concern in Guatemala, with analysts and activists worried that those accused of corruption will go free and that individuals who have supported CICIG's work may face retaliatory persecution.

    "[We are concerned] that we will see persecution against people who have worked within CICIG, and against activists, business leaders, and judges who have supported CICIG," Marielos Chang, an independent political analyst in Guatemala, told Al Jazeera. 

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    The attacks on CICIG have also increased concerns that attempts to reform the justice system, which the commission recommended, will be set back even further.

    "The old actors that have manipulated the judicial system are empowered, and will look to debilitate the system again," said Oswaldo Samayoa, a Guatemalan constitutional lawyer, told Al Jazeera.

    Samayoa added, however, that: "CICIG represents a phase, but not the end of the construction of the process to build a society without corruption."

    "Now it is our turn to build a country that responds to the needs of the people," he told Al Jazeera.

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    People gather outside the headquarters of the UN International Commission Against Impunity, CICIG, to acknowledge its performance against corruption [Johan Ordonez/AFP]  

    Polls have shown more than 70 percent of Guatemalans support CICIG, but outspoken critics argue the body became a tool of political persecution.

    CICIG supporters on Saturday painted a message of "thank you" on the former offices of the anti-corruption body, but by Monday the painting was defaced.

    A march to support the outgoing body is scheduled for later on Tuesday. Critics have also planned a march for the same day to celebrate the commission's end.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News