Guatemala president ordered detained in corruption probe
GUATEMALA CITY - The Associated Press
AP photoA Guatemalan judge has issued an unprecedented order to detain President Otto Perez Molina in a fraud scandal that has engulfed his government, becoming the most serious blow so far against entrenched political corruption in the Central American country.
The order is not for arrest, but for Perez Molina to declare before Judge Miguel Angel Galvea, who granted the request Sept. 2 from Attorney General Thelma Aldana, she told Canal Antigua television.
The president will have to appear on accusations of illicit association, fraud and receiving bribe money in a customs fraud scandal in which the vice president has already been jailed and some of his Cabinet ministers have stepped down.
Galvez will decide the next step based on the president's testimony, which could include stripping Perez Molina of his position, jailing him or leaving him in his post and free during the judicial process.
Aldana said there is a preliminary investigation underway about the president's possible involvement in the fraud ring.
Perez Molina, 64, has maintained his innocence and vows to face the legal process. No formal charges have been filed.
His attorney, Cesar Calderon, told The Associated Press that the president will appear voluntarily as soon as they have confirmed the order was issued.
It is the first time a sitting Guatemalan president has faced legal prosecution, though several have faced corruption charges after leaving office.
Perez Molina is under an order not to leave the country, and on Aug. 31 congress lifted his immunity from prosecution.
The corruption scandal, uncovered by prosecutors and a U.N. commission probing criminal networks in Guatemala, involved a scheme known as "La Linea," or "The Line," in which businesspeople paid bribes to avoid import duties through the customs agency. The ring is believed to have defrauded the state of millions of dollars.
The scandal has already claimed the job of former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, whose ex-personal secretary was named as the alleged ringleader. Baldetti resigned May 8 and is currently in jail awaiting trial on accusations she took millions of dollars in bribes.
She too says she is innocent.
Protesters fill the streets almost daily over the scandal, demanding not only that Perez Molina step down but that next Sunday's presidential elections be postponed. He says delaying the vote would be against the law.
Perez Molina is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election, and whoever becomes his successor would take office in January.
Those voting against Perez Molina in Congress included members of his own ruling party.
Business leaders, Guatemala's National Council of Bishops and even the government comptrollers' office have all urged Perez Molina to step down.