Saturday, September 5, 2015

Slow Saturday Special: Getting in Line in Guatemala

Related: Good For Guatemala?

"Guatemala’s ex-president denies corruption charges; Former leader accused of role in bribery ring" by Sonia Perez D. Associated Press  September 05, 2015

GUATEMALA CITY — Otto Perez Molina sat in a defendant’s chair Friday and declared his innocence in a customs corruption scandal that forced him to resign a day earlier as president of this Central American nation.

The former leader denied prosecutors’ allegations that he was involved in a conspiracy to defraud the state by letting businesses evade import duties in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes.

‘‘The first thing I want to deny — I don’t belong to ‘La Linea,’ ’’ Perez Molina said, referring to the name of the fraud scheme, Spanish for ‘‘The Line.’’

The hearing wrapped in the afternoon, and the judge said he would make a ruling Tuesday. Perez Molina was ordered to remain in custody until then at the same military barracks where he spent his first night as a former president.

Prosecutors argued that Perez Molina was, in fact, aware of the conspiracy, and formally asked the judge to order a trial on charges of illicit association and graft.

They presented 77 wiretap conversations that totaled more than five hours and were recorded during multiple days, as well as documents seized in raids that allegedly detailed how bribes were divvied up.

Prosecutors contend that when people in the wiretaps refer to No. 1, they were alluding to Perez Molina and that former Vice President Roxana Baldetti was 2.

‘‘The structure under the 1 and 2 received 50 percent, and the 1 and 2 received the other 50 percent’’ of the money, prosecutor Jose Antonio Morales alleged.

Baldetti resigned May 8 after her former personal secretary, who remains a fugitive, was named as the alleged ringleader of the scheme. Baldetti, now jailed and facing charges, also says she is innocent.

‘‘Your honor I am not going to risk my dignity, my work, nor all the effort I have made for Guatemala in return for $800,000,’’ Perez Molina said in allusion to dollar figures presented by prosecutors.

He said in an interview that he had been uncomfortable and slept little the previous night, and hopes to be granted bond or house arrest.

‘‘No jail is good. . . . I hope the judge gives me an alternative,’’ Perez Molina said.

I don't know what is going on down there, but I'm glad at least one member of the elite political cla$$ is finding that out.

Perez Molina formally stepped down Thursday as Guatemala’s political crisis came to a dramatic climax, and Vice President Alejandro Maldonado was sworn in hours later as the country’s new leader.

He promised to lead an honest and inclusive transition government, and to restore Guatemalans’ confidence in their democracy.

(Blog editor shakes his head; not a good sign)

Maldonado will serve the rest of Perez Molina’s term, which ends in January. The country will vote Sunday for the next president in an election in which the timing has nothing to do with the crisis.

At least 100 people are under investigation in connection with the ‘‘Linea’’ case.


UPDATEA new Guatemala slowly emerges

Also see: Sunday Globe Special: Spicy Supper