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Judge orders former president of Guatemala to face trial on fraud charges

There are "sufficient indications that suggest he took part" in the scam, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez told a hearing.

(Photo: Reuters)
English 08/09/2015 15:40 Reuters Actualizada 15:40

A Guatemalan judge on Tuesday ordered fallen former President Otto Pérez Molina to stand trial over a graft scandal that stoked a political crisis, charging him with criminal association, taking bribes and customs fraud.

Pérez, a 64-year-old retired general who was elected in late 2011 on a vow to fight crime and corruption, resigned as president last week, just as the country headed into the first round of a presidential election. He was held in jail pending a hearing into accusations he made millions of dollars from a customs racket.

There are "sufficient indications that suggest he took part" in the scam, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez told a hearing. Dressed in a dark suit, Pérez sat frowning during the hearing, and jotted in a notebook.

Prosecutors allege he was involved in a customs scam dubbed "La Línea" ("The Line"), referring to a phone hotline used by importers to avoid paying customs duties in exchange for bribes.

Pérez' conservative government spent much of this year facing corruption allegations, and he fired several of his cabinet members in a purge in May.

Comic actor Jimmy Morales rode a wave of outrage over the scandal to win the most votes in Guatemala's presidential election on Sunday, and is seen as having a strong chance of winning a runoff next month.

It remains unclear whether he will face former first lady Sandra Torres or conservative businessman Manuel Baldizon, who remain neck and neck as the vote count from Sunday's vote continues.

Congress has sworn in Pérez' vice president, Alejandro Maldonado, to fill out his term until power is handed over to the eventual winner in January.

Former Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned after she was linked to "La Línea." She denied any wrongdoing but was arrested on the same charges Pérez now faces.

More than 20 other officials, including the president of the central bank, have been arrested over the scam, though how much money was involved is still unclear.

Prosecutors and a powerful United Nations-backed anti-corruption body known as the CICIG moved against Pérez following months of investigations and findings taken from some 89,000 telephone taps, almost 6,000 emails and 17 raids.

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