The move came after President Jimmy Morales announced he was expelling the head of a UN anti-corruption commission that is investigating his campaign's financing.

Guatemalans march demanding the resignation of President Jimmy Morales and in support of the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Colombian Ivan Velasquez, who is investigating corruption in the country.
Guatemalans march demanding the resignation of President Jimmy Morales and in support of the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Colombian Ivan Velasquez, who is investigating corruption in the country. (AFP)

Guatemala's Constitutional Court on Sunday suspended an order by President Jimmy Morales to expel the head of an influential UN anti-graft unit investigating campaign financing, setting the stage for political instability in the Central American nation.

Speaking in a video published on his Facebook account earlier on Sunday, the president said Ivan Velasquez, head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, must leave the country immediately.

Morales' declaration that Velasquez was "persona non grata" came days after CICIG said the president should be investigated over alleged illicit funding during his election campaign.

TRT World's Staci Bivens has this report.

The move against the US-backed anti-corruption unit triggered a rash of departures from Morales' government and was quickly criticized by the United Nations, the United States, Europe and Canada.

In its ruling, the country's highest civil court said the foreign, defense and interior ministers should not participate in removing Velasquez from the country.

With powers to investigate crime and corruption, CICIG was instrumental in removing Guatemala's former president from office in 2015 after identifying him as a key player in an alleged multimillion-dollar corruption racket.

A former comedian, Morales came to power in 2016, winning the election on an anti-corruption ticket after his predecessor was brought down.

Many politicians in Guatemala consider the body to be a violation of national sovereignty, while anti-corruption activists credit it with cleaning up government.

Protesters gathered on Sunday outside CICIG's offices and the court in support of Velasquez, a veteran prosecutor who previously investigated drug cartels and paramilitary groups in his home country, Colombia.

Guatemala's foreign minister, deputy foreign minister, health minister and three deputy health ministers all left the government on Sunday, according to a spokesman and a resignation letter. The circumstances of the foreign minister's departure were not immediately clear, but he said on Friday he would resign if Velasquez was forced out.

"You've taken a position in favor of impunity and the corrupt sectors of the country, contradicting all of the statements you once made about justice and transparency," Health Minister Lucrecia Hernandez wrote in the letter, also signed by three vice ministers who resigned with her.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a statement he was "shocked" by Morales' move, and called on Guatemalan authorities to treat Velasquez with respect. 

In a joint statement issued by the US Embassy, a group of nine Western countries and the European Union strongly backed Velasquez and criticized Morales' move to oust him.

Representative Eliot Engel of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee said he was "extremely disappointed" by Morales' decision and called on the State Department and Congress to examine the future of US assistance to the Guatemalan government.

"CICIG has played a transformational role in combating corruption and impunity in Guatemala," he said in a statement.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies