In final report, UN body says Guatemala 'captured' by graft

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GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A U.N. commission that spent the last 12 years probing graft in Guatemala described the country as "captured" by corruption in its final report Wednesday, days before it is set to wrap up operations after President Jimmy Morales refused to renew its mandate.

The commission, known as CICIG for its initials in Spanish, said in its final report that there is a "mafia coalition" among members of government, the business community and private individuals that is "willing to sacrifice Guatemala's present and future to guarantee impunity and preserve the status quo."

Commission chief Iván Velásquez, a Colombian lawyer who has been barred by Morales' government from entering Guatemala, said via video conference from Colombia that the report would be the commission's last public act.

"We almost got to the nucleus of the structures that have captured the state," Velásquez said. "This cannot be solved without a profound restructuring of the state."

The commission began its work in Guatemala in 2007 at the request of then-President Óscar Berger and was given responsibility for dismantling illegality in the wake of the country's 1960-1996 civil war.

Morales accused the body of overreaching its authority last year, after the commission brought investigations against him, some of his relatives and his inner circle. He was protected from prosecution as a sitting president and has denied wrongdoing.

While many observers praised the commission for its work, which resulted in the prosecution of more than 400 people, including former President Otto Pérez Molina (2012-2015), his vice president and much of his Cabinet, Morales decided that CICIG had run its course, setting up its impending departure Sept. 3.

Critics saw Morales' refusal to renew the commission's mandate as an attempt to protect himself and those close to him.

The report argued that the "impunity of power" in Guatemala dates to colonial times.

One of the reasons why corruption networks persist today, it said, is that "they have distorted democratic institutionality in their favor and they have molded the political system and designed mechanisms that allow them to occupy positions of power, manipulating legislation."

"Between 2012 and 2015, an illicit, political-economic network took over the executive (branch), subordinated the legislative, manipulated and interfered in the election of judges to high courts and, in addition to looting the state, promoted laws and policies favoring private companies to the detriment of competition and the citizenry," the report continued.

All that benefited drug trafficking networks, it added.

Together with Guatemalan prosecutors, the commission took down 70 organized crime networks. Those targeted for prosecution have included public officials, lawmakers, judges, businesspeople and other civilians.

It also investigated Morales' National Convergence Front for alleged illegal political financing.

The report said illicit political money is "present in the majority of campaigns and parties" and comes from criminal organizations including drug traffickers seeking territorial control and political protection, as well as businesspeople seeking influence.