GUATEMALA CITY — President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala on Friday shut down a crusading anticorruption commission sponsored by the United Nations that has pressed a number of high-profile investigations, including one pending against the president himself related to campaign financing.
Speaking in front of civilian and military leaders, Mr. Morales said he had informed the United Nations secretary general of his decision to revoke the body’s mandate and “immediately” begin transferring its capacities to Guatemalan institutions.
Minutes before the surprise announcement, army vehicles donated by the United States that Guatemala uses to fight smuggling operations were deployed to the commission’s headquarters in the capital in what critics called an attempt at intimidation.
The decision caps a long history of friction between the president and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, also known as Cicig for the initials of the commission’s name in Spanish.
In August 2017, Mr. Morales announced that he was expelling the commission’s chief, Iván Velásquez, but that move was quickly blocked by Guatemala’s top court.
At the time, Mr. Morales declared Mr. Velásquez a persona non grata and fired his foreign minister for refusing to carry out the order to expel him, before later backing off and saying he would obey the court’s decision.
Mr. Morales accused the commission on Friday of “violating our laws, inducing people and institutions to participate in acts of corruption and impunity” and “selective criminal prosecution with an ideological bias.”
“Selective justice has been used to intimidate and terrorize the citizenry,” he said. “Judicial independence has been violated, with the intention of manipulating justice, actions that attack the presumption of innocence and due process.”
The announcement was promptly met with criticism from human rights officials and advocates.
“We sincerely regret the great mistake that the president made public in not renewing Cicig’s mandate,” said Jordán Rodas, Guatemala’s human rights prosecutor. “We are grateful for its valuable contribution in the country to the fight against corruption and impunity.”
Mr. Morales is suspected of receiving at least $1 million in undeclared contributions during the 2015 campaign. He has denied wrongdoing.
Last week the Supreme Court allowed a request brought by Cicig and Guatemalan prosecutors to strip the president’s immunity from prosecution to go to Congress for consideration. If 105 lawmakers vote in favor, it could open up Mr. Morales to investigation for possible illicit campaign financing.
“I think there’s a conflict of interest, and an attempt by President Morales to try to protect his own interests in light of the ongoing investigation and probe,” said Adriana Beltrán, director for citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America, which promotes human rights, democracy and economic justice in the region.
Ms. Beltrán said that Cicig and Mr. Velásquez had made remarkable progress in strengthening the rule of law in Guatemala “despite constant attacks” and that “there’s still much more that needs to be done.”
The commission released security camera video showing perhaps a dozen military jeeps taking up position curbside outside the headquarters on Friday, some with soldiers manning machine gun turrets. The Cicig spokesman, Matías Ponce, said they were there for a few minutes, and later returned and drove by without stopping. Mr. Ponce also said that police and army vehicles intercepted a car carrying a team from the commission on a street in the capital.
Mr. Rodas called the deployment an “oversize and intimidating presence.”
“It is an unnecessary military movement that reminds us of days past when there were coups, and now we are a democracy — nobody is above the law,” he said, adding that he would work to guarantee the safety of the commissioner and his team.
The commission’s work with Guatemalan prosecutors has led to high-profile graft investigations that ensnared dozens of politicians and businesspeople and even led to the downfall of former President Otto Pérez Molina and his vice president.