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Guatemalan Court Blocks President's Order to Expel UN Envoy


FILE - Commissioner of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) Ivan Velasquez (R) and Guatemala's Attorney General Thelma Aldana, hold a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Aug. 24, 2017.

A court in Guatemala has blocked an order by the president of the Central American country to expel the head of a U.N. anti-corruption commission investigating his campaign financing.

The constitutional court ordered the government not to carry out President Jimmy Morales's order to expel Iván Velásquez, a Colombian national. The U.N. official has tried to investigate alleged illegal payments linked to the president's party, the National Convergence Front.

In a video published online Sunday, Morales said Velásquez should be expelled "in the interests of the Guatemalan people, for the strengthening of the rule of law and our institutions."

Velásquez said Friday that his International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, working together with Guatemalan government legal officials, believes that Morales violated campaign-financing laws before his election in 2015. In order to pursue the investigation, Velasquez said, he will seek to strip Morales of his immunity from prosecution.

The court order to block Morales's retaliatory expulsion order is expected to force the president either to drop his action against Velásquez or defy the nation's top judges.

In Washington Sunday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. was "deeply concerned'' by Morales' decision. The U.S. statement supported Velásquez as an effective leader of the commission and said his commission should be able to "work free from interference by the Guatemalan government."

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres was "shocked" to learn that Morales declared Velásquez persona non grata, according to his spokesman.

"He fully expects that Mr. Velásquez will be treated by the Guatemalan authorities with the respect due to his functions as an international civil servant," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Guartemala's attorney general, Thelma Aldana, has worked with the U.N. commission, known as CICIG. She has said Morales refused to account for more than $800,000 in campaign financing.

The same U.N. commission uncovered a corruption scandal that ousted Morales's predecessor, President Otto Perez, two years ago.

About 2,500 people protested in the capital on Saturday, demanding that Morales, a former comic actor who won election on promises to be honest, resign.