Guatemala lawmakers curb penalties for illegal election financing

Congress members are seen at congress as they voted on Monday to preserve President Jimmy Morales's (not pictured) immunity from prosecution, in Guatemala City, Guatemala September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria (Reuters)

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala's Congress on Wednesday approved a "national emergency" decree to curb penalties for illegal election financing after the country's president was linked to suspected irregularities during his 2015 election campaign. The change eliminates criminal responsibility for "authorizing" electoral funds that prove to be illegal and makes party accountants responsible for irregularities rather than party leaders. The reform, approved by a vote of 105-19, also reduces the penalty for illegal election financing from a maximum of 12 years to 10 and allows for paying a fine in order to avoid jail time. The decree was the latest blow to the prosecutor's office and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) after Congress this week voted to preserve President Jimmy Morales' immunity from prosecution. Prosecutors had sought to remove Morales' immunity to investigate him over some $800,000 in allegedly unexplained campaign funds when he was the head of his party. Prosecutors are also investigating Guatemala's other major parties. Under the leadership of Ivan Velasquez, a veteran Colombian prosecutor, the CICIG has caused problems for Morales, first investigating his son and brother, and then seeking to prosecute him over the allegedly unexplained campaign funds. The U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, Todd Robinson, expressed his disappointment in a message on Twitter. "Years of malnutrition, insecurity, crime, corruption. Congress? No action. Amazing how fast they act to protect selves from prosecution," he said in a post. "Really? National emergency? What a shame!" (Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Editing by Leslie Adler)