Guatemalan president resigns over fraud allegations

Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina resigns from his post after court order issued for his prosecution on charges of promoting corruption within country

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Guatemalan president Otto Perez gestures after a news conference in the Presidential House in Guatemala City, August 31, 2015.

Updated Sep 4, 2015

Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina quit his post following an order by Judge Miguel Angel Galvez who called for the president’s prosecution on accusations of a fraud scheme that has overwhelmed the government, initiating the most serious blow so far against the deep-rooted political corruption in the country, according to a statement released by the president’s spokesman Jorge Ortega on Thursday.

The conservative leader, in power since 2012, decided to step down in a bid to confront "individually the proceedings against him," Ortega added, hours after the arrest warrant was issued.

The president’s letter of resignation was signed late on Wednesday and sent to the country's Congress, which is expected to call for an emergency session early on Thursday to hand power to Vice President Alejandro Maldonado according to the constitution, he said.

The order is not under the premise of an arrest but rather for the president to stand before Judge Galvez, who granted the request on Wednesday from Attorney General Thelma Aldana, and give a testimony regarding the allegations against him, Attorney General Aldana told Canal Antigua television.

President Perez, who promised to fight to end crime and corruption once elected, will have to appear on charges of illicit association, fraud and taking bribes in a customs fraud scandal in which the former vice president, Roxana Baldetti, has already been jailed and some of his cabinet ministers have stepped down.

Guatemala’s attorney general has stated that there is a preliminary investigation in motion about the president’s possible connection within the fraud community.

The president’s immunity from prosecution was stripped of on Tuesday by a unanimous vote at the Guatemalan Congress, clearing the way for prosecutors to proceed with their case against him.

Demonstrators show off their marked hands reading "105 votes", referring to the two-thirds majority of Congress needed to strip Guatemalan President of his immunity, outside the Congress in Guatemala City, September 1, 2015.

Judge Galvez will decide what the president’s future will hold based on his testimony, the verdict could include stripping him of his position as president, imprisoning him or if he was proven innocent then he could be allowed to walk out as a free man.

Attorney General Aldana said that she was positive that president Perez will be found guilty of corruption, as the country's top court dismissed Perez's challenge to prosecutors' moves to try him.

"This has been happening at an incredibly fast rate. If the judge decides to send him to prison after he is picked up, this might be the end of his political career," Al Jazeera's David Mercer, reporting from the Guatemalan capital of Antigua, said.

"Despite the mass protests against him, he many times said that he had no connection to this multi-million-dollar fraud."

Prosecutors and a UN commission examining criminal networks in Guatemala both uncovered the corruption scheme known as "La Linea," or "The Line," in which  businessmen paid bribes to escape import duties through the customs agency.

The scheme is believed to have cheated the state of millions of dollars.

Thousands of protesters filled the streets of the capital, Guatemala City, and other cities almost on a daily basis over the scandal, demanding Perez Molina’s resignation from his post and that next Sunday's presidential elections be postponed.

Perez will not be eligible to run for re-elections in Sunday's presidential vote according to the country’s constitution.

Six of Perez’s 14 ministers have already resigned in recent days, along with several other top officials.


TRTWorld and agencies