September 13, 2017 / 12:41 AM / 13 days ago

Guatemala federal auditor to probe president's pay bonus

Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales addresses the audience during the inauguration of the Spanish Square in Guatemala City, Guatemala September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala’s federal auditor on Tuesday said it will investigate a salary bonus the Defense Ministry gives to President Jimmy Morales that raises his earnings by more than a third, making him one of the best paid leaders in Latin America.

The federal comptroller, which audits all government spending, said in a statement it had asked for information on the previously unknown 50,000 quetzals (£5,492) “Bonus for Extraordinary Responsibility” that is not officially part of the president’s salary package.

Defense Minister William Mansilla on Tuesday confirmed that Morales had since December 2016 received the payment, which lifts the president’s salary to $27,400 a month.

“The president didn’t ask for it. Instead, it was a group decision by the army,” Mansilla said in a press conference. “A technical board of auditors determined the bonus.”

The revelation of the unusual salary perk comes at an awkward time for the beleaguered Morales, who managed to retain his immunity from prosecution on Monday.

Congress voted overwhelmingly to protect him after the attorney general submitted a request to investigate Morales over suspected financing irregularities during his 2015 election campaign.

Last month, Guatemala’s attorney general and the U.N.-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) jointly sought to investigate Morales, a former comedian, over the illegal financing allegation. Two days later, Morales declared the head of the U.N. body “persona non grata.”

Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales attends the inauguration of the Spanish Square in Guatemala City, Guatemala September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

Under the leadership of Ivan Velasquez, a veteran Colombian prosecutor, CICIG has caused problems for Morales, first investigating his son and brother then aiming at him.

The Defense Ministry on Tuesday posted on its website documents, dated Jan. 1, 2016, that detailed the payment to the president and various other military officials.

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“The considerations (for the bonus) were due to his position and the risks and dangers that (Morales) undertakes,” Mansilla said in explaining the army’s reasoning for the payment.

Former Presidents Alfonso Portillo and Alvaro Colom told Reuters they had not received such a bonus.

The president’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The salary bonus means that Morales earns 70 percent more than Chilean leader Michelle Bachelet and 130 percent more than Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, two of the region’s best paid top officials.

The bonus is also 90 times the $300 minimum wage in Guatemala, where 60 percent of the population lives in poverty.

Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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