Latin America & Caribbean

Guatemala ex-President Otto Perez indicted for corruption

Guatemalan ex-President Otto Perez gestures during a hearing at a court in Guatemala City on September 8, 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The former president defied months of mass protests calling on him to quit

A Guatemalan judge has ordered the former president, Otto Perez Molina, to stand trial on corruption charges.

Prosecutors accuse Mr Perez of masterminding a scheme where businesses bribed officials to clear their imports through customs at a low tax rate.

The scandal led to months of street protests across the country.

The judge said there was sufficient evidence for Mr Perez Molina to face charges of customs fraud, racketeering and bribery.

A UN commission helped gather criminal evidence for the case which they say is based on around 89,000 wire-tapped phone calls.

The scheme was dubbed "La Linea" (the line), after a telephone hotline businesses allegedly called to get in touch with corrupt officials.

Prosecutors allege the scheme collected $3.8m in bribes between May 2014 and April 2015, including $800,000 each to Mr Perez and former vice-president Roxana Baldetti, who has already been jailed.

The former president has denied any wrongdoing and has promised to co-operate with the investigation.

"Your honour, I am not going to risk my dignity, my work, nor all the effort I have made for Guatemala in return for $800,000," he said in court earlier this week.

He resigned as president last week after Congress lifted his political immunity following months of anti-corruption protests.

He will remain in jail until the trial in three months' time.

The Vice President, Alejandro Maldonado, is acting as an interim leader until a new president takes power in January.

On Sunday Guatemala held general elections.

A comic actor, Jimmy Morales won the presidential race, but fell short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff in October.

He will face either former first lady Sandra Torres or centre-right businessman Manuel Baldizon.

Mr Baldizon had been a favourite to win but Mr Morales saw a late surge of support in opinion polls off the back of the unfolding corruption scandal.

Several of Mr Baldizon's allies had been linked to the scandal.

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