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Prosecutors in Guatemala ask court to lift president-elect’s immunity; OAS cites ‘coup attempt’

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemalan prosecutors asked a court Friday to strip President-elect Bernardo Arevalo of his immunity, saying there may have been fraud sufficient to invalidate the election results. The OAS called the move “part of an attempted coup.” ”

It was the third such move since he was elected president in August, and the Organization of American States said the move was part of a “coup attempt.”

Guatemala's presidential election changes dramatically as an unexpected winner is confirmed and a legal battle breaks out

Arevalo is scheduled to be sworn in on January 14, but it is unclear whether prosecutors' continued targeting of him and his party will disrupt his inauguration.

The latest indictment from prosecutors cites alleged wrongdoing in the way Mr. Arevalo's Seed Movement party collected signatures for registration years ago.

Authorities have arrested a number of Seed movement members in recent weeks. They also previously called for Arevalo's immunity to be revoked over allegations of manipulating party funds, and for his allegedly supportive comments on social media regarding last year's takeover of a public university. He also demanded that the vice president's immunity be revoked.

“The OAS condemns the attempted coup d'état by Guatemalan prosecutors,” the OAS said in a statement, calling on the courts and parliament not to authorize the coup.

“Attempts to nullify this year's general elections are the worst form of subverting democracy and entrenching political corruption against the will of the people,” the OAS wrote.

Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who is sanctioned by the U.S. government, has faced months of protests and calls for his resignation, as well as international condemnation of his intervention. Porras and outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei deny any intention to interfere in the election results.

Earlier this month, three judges from Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal left the country hours after Congress stripped them of their immunity and opened them to prosecution as the losing party continued to interfere in the results.

A magistrate judge certified the election results, but came under pressure from two lawyers associated with far-right candidates who did not advance to the presidential runoff.

Lawyers complained that the court overpaid for software it purchased to perform and publish rapid initial vote counts. The attorney general's office previously said a preliminary investigation suggested there were cheaper options.

Arevalo was not on the ballot among the top candidates ahead of the first round in June, but secured second place in the runoff on a pledge to crack down on Guatemala's endemic corruption. In the final vote in August, she defeated former first lady Sandra Torres by a wide margin.

As the son of a former president, Arevalo was still able to position himself as an outsider. As an academic with many years of experience working on conflict resolution, he was untainted by the corruption that has permeated Guatemalan politics in recent years and promised change.

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Guatemala's establishment, which may be most fearful of Arévalo's government, which is serious about fighting corruption, is apparently intent on weakening Arévalo or preventing him from taking office.

Karen Fisher, one of the lawyers who filed the complaint, urged swift action in her testimony to the special committee investigating the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. “Time is short as January 14th approaches,” she said.

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