Guatemalan president's son, brother absolved in graft case

SONNY FIGUEROA
1 / 3

Guatemala Corruption

Jose Manuel Morales Marroquin, son of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, front left, and his uncle Samuel Everardo Morales, the president's brother, enters court in Guatemala City, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. The court acquitted the pair who were singled out for a corruption case in 2013. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — President Jimmy Morales' son and brother were absolved by a Guatemalan court Monday in a corruption case targeting 25 people, including the former head of the country's property registry.

Prosecutors had alleged that José Manuel Morales Marroquín, the president's son, and Samuel Morales, his brother, took part in purported falsification of invoices and estimates for a 2013 event that was paid for but never carried out. The alleged scheme was supposedly for the benefit of a business belonging to Morales Marroquín's romantic partner at the time.

Both were accused of fraud, and Morales was also charged with money laundering, but the court found there was no intent to defraud or any proof of economic benefit by the president's family members.

Monday's ruling can be appealed by prosecutors, who did not immediately say whether they would do so.

"We said it: The truth will set us free," Morales Marroquín said. "There was never any action on our part, by our family, to obstruct those cases."

"Today it has been made clear that the political persecution of my family was one of so many weapons of terror utilized to break my spirit and end my reputation," the president said via social media. "But God who is good has given me a strong and brave family that never hides nor kowtows."

The investigation was carried out by prosecutors and a U.N.-backed commission known as Cicig, which for over a decade has helped probe endemic corruption in the country but is now on its way out after running afoul of the president. Together they have brought prosecutions against dozens of politicians, government officials and businesspeople.

The case at hand was presented in 2016 and the president then initiated a series of attempts to hamstring the commission.

In August of that year, Morales sought to expel Cicig's chief Iván Velásquez from Guatemala, but the decision was overturned by the Constitutional Court.

In 2017, he tried to unilaterally end Cicig's charter, but was again blocked by the court.

He announced last year that he would not renew the commission's mandate to operate in the country; it is set to cease operations and leave after Sept. 3.

In February, a three-judge court took Cicig off the case.

Prosecutors and Cicig have also investigated the president for possible wrongdoing, but he is shielded from prosecution by immunity as a sitting president and lawmakers have declined to lift that protection.

Jimmy Morales is set to leave office in January when his term ends and be succeeded by President-elect Alejandro Giammattei, who won the top office in an Aug. 11 runoff.

Giammattei has distanced himself from Morales' decision not to renew Cicig's mandate, but also indicated he wouldn't try to bring the commission back.