GUATEMALA CITY -- Guatemala announced Monday it was pulling out of a United Nations-sponsored anti-corruption commission after more than a year of tension between the government and the group, which has investigated top government officials and people close to President Jimmy Morales.
Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel announced the decision after meeting with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the commission, known as CICIG for its initials in Spanish, at the United Nations.
An hour later, Morales, accompanied by ministers and family members of people accused of corruption, held a news conference in Guatemala City in which he accused the U.N. and Guterres of being silent in the face of what he said were human rights abuses committed by CICIG.
"In spite of Guatemala's efforts with the United Nations, the silence, passivity and negativism of the secretary-general contributed to an uncertainty in the CICIG's actions that put at risk the country's sovereignty," Guatemala's president said.
Members of a Russian family accused and convicted of corruption for the use of false documents to open businesses and buy property in Guatemala thanked Morales for withdrawing from the commission.
"Thank you, Mr. President, for your fight for sovereignty and human rights," said Irina Bitkova, whose family was affected by the commission's work in Guatemala.
Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric issued a statement saying the U.N. expects Guatemala to keep up its end of an agreement that created the commission, until its mandate ends in September.
Guterres "strongly rejects" Guatemala's complaints in withdrawing from the commission, Dujarric said, adding that the group has made an "important contribution ... to the fight against impunity in Guatemala."
Jovel accused the commission and its members of politicizing its work, violating Guatemala's sovereignty, failing to respect the presumption of innocence and causing "division in our society."
"The CICIG has exceeded its authority," she said. Jovel said the commission's staffers have 24 hours to leave the country, though a Guatemalan court has ruled that the country has to grant them visas.
During its 11 years operating in Guatemala, CICIG has pressed corruption cases that have implicated more than 600 people, including elected officials, businesspeople and bureaucrats. The commission said in November that it has won 310 convictions and broken up 60 criminal networks.
Morales has made no secret of his contempt for the group — formally, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala — which has investigated the president's son and his brother. They deny accusations of corruption.
The commission has also tried to bring a case involving purported illegal campaign financing against Morales, who has repeatedly denied involvement in any corruption and calls attempts to investigate him politically motivated. Lawmakers so far have rebuffed proposals to lift Morales' immunity from prosecution in the matter.
Morales said in August 2017 he was expelling CICIG's chief. Though a court quickly blocked that order, the commission head was later barred from re-entering the country after leaving for a business trip.
Last year, Morales refused to renew CICIG's mandate, effectively giving it until September 2019 to wind down operations and leave the country. He used his speech at this fall's annual U.N. General Assembly meeting of world leaders to inveigh against CICIG and what he called Guterres' indifference to Guatemala's concerns.
Most recently, a commission member was detained at an airport for almost a day and refused entry to the country after arriving Saturday. A court ordered his release.
Peltz contributed from the United Nations.