Former Guatemalan president formally charged with corruption

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Guatemalan ex-president Otto Perez Molina was formally charged Tuesday with criminal association, corruption and fraud in connection with a customs fraud investigation.

Perez Molina, 64, a retired general who had been president since 2012 and resigned last week, was placed under arrest pending trial,

The trial is set to start on December 21, so he is expected to spend more than three months imprisoned at the prison in the Matamoros military barracks in Guatemala City.

Judge Miguel Angel Galvez said Perez Molina was being sent to prison to prevent him from hindering the work of investigators.

The former president continued to deny the allegations and said he was “frustrated” over his situation.

“In none of the three crimes I am being accused of is there anything solid, just other people talking, references, but nothing solid. We do not understand the judge’s decision,” Perez Molina told reporters at the end of the hearing.

The court “believes there is sufficient reasonable evidence” to suggest Perez Molina may have committed the crimes, though the judge stressed that no wrongdoing has so far been proved.

Guatemalan prosecutors and a UN commission believe the former president led the scheme known as La Linea, which allegedly helped importers avoid millions of dollars in customs fees in exchange for bribes. Prosecutors think the ring was active at least from May 2014 to April 2015.

The Guatemalan Congress accepted Perez Molina’s resignation Thursday and appointed Vice President Alejandro Maldonado to fulfil his presidential mandate ending in January.

In recorded conversations played in court, Perez Molina’s former vice president, Roxana Baldetti, who was arrested last month, appeared to refer to him as “chairman of the company,” “number 1” and “owner of the estate.” A total of 39 people have already been arrested in connection with this case.

High-level corruption is hardly new in Guatemala. Former president Alfonso Portillo (2000-04) served several months in a US prison for money laundering. He had accepted bribes from Taiwan in exchange for Guatemala continuing to recognize the Asian state.

Guatemalans went to the polls Sunday to elect a new president, whose term is to start in January. Comedian Jimmy Morales, an outsider, won the first round of voting as people turned their backs on the Central American country’s traditional elites.

The president is set to be decided in a run-off on October 25, but Morales’s rival in the decisive vote remained unclear since second place is still too close to call.

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