Guatemalan president says won’t stand down amid graft scandal
GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan President Otto Perez dismissed corruption allegations levelled against him by prosecutors and said on Sunday he would not stand down, despite mounting pressure on the government and calls for his impeachment as a presidential election looms.
In a combative, pre-recorded address that was televised to the nation, an animated Perez said he had received no money from the customs racket to which investigators have linked him, and stressed that his conscience “was clear”.
Guatemala’s attorney general and a U.N.-backed anti-corruption body known as the CICIG sought to impeach Perez on Friday after months of investigation into the racket known as La Linea, or ‘the line’, after a phone hotline used in the scandal.
“I will not resign and will fully submit myself to the legal process,” said Perez, a 64-year-old retired general.
“I categorically reject any link (to the scandal),” he said, apologising for the scandals afflicting his government.
Perez also took a swipe at sectors of the international community he said were “seeking to intervene” in Guatemalan democracy. He did not specify to whom he was referring.
Investigations led by the CICIG have battered Guatemala’s political establishment and also engulfed the running mate of the favourite to succeed Perez, casting doubt on the outcome of the race.
On Friday, former Vice President Roxana Baldetti was arrested over the La Linea scandal. Attorney General Thelma Aldana submitted a bid to impeach Perez later that day.
Perez’s agriculture and health ministers both quit his cabinet on Sunday, following in the footsteps of two others on Saturday who said they could no longer serve in his government.
Baldetti, who stood down in May and was arrested on Friday while receiving treatment at a hospital, is suspected of illicit association, bribery and fraud linked to the customs racket. Prosecutors say Perez was at the head of the scam.
It is unclear how much money was involved in the fraud, More than 20 people have been arrested over it so far.
The first round of the presidential vote is due on Sept. 6 although, with a 50 percent winning threshold in place, the elections are likely to go to a second round run-off on Oct. 25.
Perez cannot run for re-election under Guatemalan law. -Reuters