• Guatemala opens corruption probe against president

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    HEADED FOR TRIAL Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina waves as he leaves after a press conference at the presidential residence in Guatemala City on May 28, 2015. Embattled President Otto Perez has faced large protests calling for his resignation since a UN-backed investigation uncovered a customs bribery ring implicating a wide array of high-ranking officials. AFP PHOTO

    HEADED FOR TRIAL
    Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina waves as he leaves after a press conference at the presidential residence in Guatemala City on May 28, 2015. Embattled President Otto Perez has faced large protests calling for his resignation since a UN-backed investigation uncovered a customs bribery ring implicating a wide array of high-ranking officials. AFP PHOTO

    GUATEMALA CITY: Guatemalan President Otto Perez will be investigated for alleged corruption and Congress has been asked to consider lifting his immunity, the Supreme Court said Wednesday.

    The president has faced major protests calling for his resignation since a UN-backed investigation reported in April a customs bribery ring implicating a wide array of high-ranking officials.

    Last month, Perez fired three government ministers and his intelligence chief as he sought to get a grip on the widening scandal in the poor and violence-plagued Central American country of 15 million.

    “This is a body blow politically for the president because unfortunately in this country (legal) immunity has guaranteed (elected officials can act with) impunity,” said Marcio Palacios, head of the political science department at the Universidad de San Carlos.

    “The president is cornered. And he has no option but to resign.”

    For political analyst Manuel Villacorta, the development also could send student and other social organizations into the streets.

    “We should not forget that these groups are the ones that have been demanding specifically that Perez step down,” he said.

    The probe against Perez, requested by an opposition party founded by Nobel peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu, was announced at a press conference by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Josue Baquiax.

    The 13 members of the court studied a complaint from the Winaq party to the effect Perez knew about illegal transactions committed by senior officials involved in fraud in the customs and social security systems, Baquiax said.

    Now it is up to Congress to appoint an investigative commission, the chief justice said.

    The UN-backed probe, aimed at cleaning up the country’s judicial system, concluded that senior customs officials took bribes from businessmen seeking to avoid paying taxes.

    In a separate scandal, the president of the Central Bank and the director of the Social Security system—both of whom are close to Perez—were arrested in May on charges of cheating the social security system out of $15 million.

    The president, a retired military official, has resisted pressure to resign and denies the corruption allegations. He has insisted he will serve out his full term, which ends in January next year.

    Though a conservative, with his country facing widespread drug-related violence, Perez surprised some by proposing legalization of illegal drugs.

    AFP

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