Guatemalan president charged with corruption

2015-09-03 22:03
 President Otto Perez Molina (AP)

President Otto Perez Molina (AP)

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Guatemala City - Guatemalan President Otto Perez appeared before court on Thursday and heard corruption charges against him, hours after filing his resignation letter to Congress.

Perez has been charged with criminal association, corruption and fraud in connection with a ring that specialised in bringing items into the country and helping companies avoid millions of dollars in customs fee in exchange for bribes.

"I decided to undergo due process. My decision was to go to the courts, so here we are," Perez told reporters as he arrived.

"There are processes that we need to comply with," he said.

Guatemalan prosecutors and a UN commission believe Perez led the group, which they think was active "at least from May 2014 until April 2015". Perez denies the charges.

"I am innocent, and we hope to defend ourselves from the accusations, so justice may prevail," Perez said as he arrived in court.

Perez filed his resignation on Wednesday after a judge issued an arrest warrant against him. The Guatemalan Congress was scheduled to meet later on Thursday to debate the resignation.

Legislators are expected to accept it and call upon Vice President Alejandro Maldonado to become head of state.

Former vice president Roxana Baldetti resigned in May when details of the growing scandal came to light. She was arrested on August 21 and put in jail for the duration of her trial.

Guatemalans elect a new president on Sunday. Perez's mandate runs until January.

The corruption network was known as La Linea, named for a telephone hotline used in the operation. Importers were allowed to avoid customs duties in exchange for paying bribes that were distributed among the officials involved, prosecutors said.

Guatemalans gathered on Thursday on the central Plaza de la Constitucion in Guatemala City to celebrate Perez's resignation.

"Yes we could, yes we could," people shouted as they waved flags and blew whistles.

Rigoberta Menchu, an activist for the rights of indigenous communities who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1992, celebrated the resignation as a triumph for Guatemalan society.

"We cannot say that this was brought about by a handful of Guatemalans," Menchu told Guatemalan TV station Guatevision.

Read more on:    guatemala

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