Guatemalan President, Otto Pérez Molina, is due to face prosecution, having resigned from office on Wednesday. His resignation came shortly after a court judge issued a warrant for his arrest. The warrant itself followed Tuesday’s vote by the Congress to strip the president of his immunity so as to enable him face prosecution on alleged corruption deals he is involved in. The corruption scandal the president is linked to is said to have caused the worst political crisis Guatemala has ever witnessed in recent times. With his resignation, Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, Vice President, would take his position to serve out his term, which ends in January, according to the country’s constitution.
As at early Thursday, the whereabouts of Perez were unknown. But as César Calderón, his lawyer, had maintained in recent days, the former president would turn himself in if charged to avoid being captured by the police. “The President has not run away, has not hidden, will not flee and will not seek asylum,” Calderón told CNN en Español.
Speaking to Guatemalan television station on Wednesday, Thelma Aldana, the country’s attorney general, said the 64-year-old Perez was facing fraud charges, illegal association and corruption linked to a clique in the Customs Service that gives discounts on import tariffs to companies in exchange for financial rewards. “We are convinced that he is involved (in the corruption deal),” she told the station.
The attorney general’s insistence that the former president was involved in corruption could have been as a result of a similar incident in the past. Before now, Roxana Baldetti, former Vice President, has been jailed, having been found guilty of similar charges, though she denied the charges. As allegations of corruption against him intensified, Perez also denied his charges last week, saying he was being unnecessarily targeted by political enemies backed up by foreign interests. “I categorically deny and reject the accusation that I was involved (in a corruption scheme) and having received any money from that customs fraud scheme,” Perez said.
The corruption scandal involving Perez started last April, after the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, CICIG, a United Nations-backed anticrime agency said it had uncovered an alleged customs fraud scheme. The scheme, called La Linea, is named after a telephone number that companies could call to get a discount on import taxes in exchange for bribes.
Set up in 2007 to help Guatemala dismantle networks of organised crime that has reportedly infiltrated the country’s institutions, CICIG has powers to launch investigations and work with Guatemalan prosecutors to bring charges against the accused. In the course of their work, the CICIG, and prosecutors led by Aldana, unmasked other alleged corruption schemes, including fraud at the Guatemalan Social Security Institute that led to the arrest of the entire board of directors, including the head of the central bank.
The alleged customs scheme, which has so far led to the arrest of more than 30 persons, was allegedly led by Juan Carlos Monzón, the personal secretary to Baldetti.
While he is yet to be found guilty of the charges, Perez has made history in Guatemala. He was the first president to be stripped of his immunity.
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