Gu­atemala’s ex-VP or­dered to stand trial for cor­rup­tion


Gu­atemala’s for­mer vice pres­i­dent was or­dered to stand trial Tues­day, while the Supreme Court took the first step in al­low­ing im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings against Pres­i­dent Otto Perez Molina in a fraud scan­dal that is push­ing the coun­try into po­lit­i­cal cri­sis.

Protesters de­mand­ing Perez Molina’s res­ig­na­tion blocked roads on the out­skirts of Gu­atemala City as a judge or­dered for­mer vice pres­i­dent Rox­ana Baldetti to stand trial on charges of con­spir­acy, cus­toms fraud and bribery, based on al­le­ga­tions that she ac­cepted US$3.7 mil­lion in bribes as part of the cus­toms scan­dal that forced her from of­fice. The judge has yet to rule whether she will be jailed dur­ing the trial.

With the unan­i­mous Supreme Court rul­ing Tues­day, the congress now will vote whether to take away Perez Molina’s im­mu­nity as a sit­ting pres­i­dent so he can be pros­e­cuted and pos­si­bly re­moved from of­fice. An at­tempt sev­eral weeks ago to start im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings based on a re­quest by leg­is­la­tor Amil­car Pop was voted down.

Pros­e­cu­tors and the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion against Im­punity in Gu­atemala re­quested the re­moval of his im­mu­nity based on al­le­ga­tions that he too is linked to the net­work of of­fi­cials and in­di­vid­u­als who re­ceived bribes from busi­ness­men to evade im­port du­ties.

“We have hit a re­ally se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal cri­sis,” said for­mer vice pres­i­dent Ed­uardo Stein. “Never be­fore have pros­e­cu­tors pub­licly re­quested lift­ing the im­mu­nity of the pres­i­dent.”

Perez Molina re­jected the pos­si­bil­ity of re­sign­ing in a tele­vised speech on Sun­day, and he has de­nied in­volve­ment in the scan­dal, which is push­ing him into a cor­ner as it grows.

Since Fri­day, five of Perez Molina’s 13 cab­i­net min­is­ters have re­signed, eight vice-min­is­ters and two sec­re­taries amidst protests that Perez Molina quit. Busi­ness and church groups have joined the calls for him to step down.

Stu­dent leader Lu­cia Ix­chiu called the pres­i­dent “cow­ardly” for his Sun­day speech and be­com­ing more en­trenched rather that heed­ing the “wide­spread clamor for his de­par­ture.”

Ac­cord­ing to the im­punity com­mis­sion, there are strong in­di­ca­tions that the pres­i­dent was tied to the crim­i­nal ring known as “La Linea,” or “The Line,” the fraud op­er­a­tion al­legedly led by Baldetti’s aide, Juan Car­los Mon­zon Ro­jas, who is cur­rently a fugi­tive.

Pros­e­cu­tors ar­gued Tues­day that Baldetti was one of the main bene­fac­tors of the ring, in part based on some 88,000 wire­taps and doc­u­ments re­veal­ing how the money was di­vided.

Her de­fense at­tor­ney, Mario Cano, called the charges po­lit­i­cal and said none of the wire­taps car­ried her voice.

Ten­sions are mount­ing ahead of the Sept. 6 elec­tions, which are to elect Perez Molina’s suc­ces­sor.

Protesters pledged more demon­stra­tions in com­ing days, some set­ting off fire­works to celebrate the two rul­ings on Tues­day against the coun­try’s two top politi­cians. Farm leader Car­los Bar­ri­en­tos said road block­ades may be erected in about two dozen points around the coun­try. Some protesters are de­mand­ing the elec­tions be post­poned un­til the cor­rup­tion scan­dal is re­solved and Perez Molina re­signs.

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