Latin America

Guatemala’s top court mulls stripping president of his immunity

Pérez Molina faces corruption allegations as public pressure for his resignation grows

Guatemala City -
Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina.
Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina.JOHAN ORDONEZ (AFP)

The Supreme Court in Guatemala on Wednesday agreed to study a complaint filed by an opposition deputy against President Otto Pérez Molina over allegations of corruption and amassing an illegal fortune.

Pérez Molina, who has said he will not resign and will serve out his term, which ends next year, has also been accused of neglecting his official duties and committing fraud. The charges were filed by Deputy Amílcar Pop of the Winaq party.

The top court will now decide whether to strip Pérez Molina of his immunity so he can face trial.

Under Guatemalan law, the country’s unicameral Congress must also decide whether there is enough evidence to support the move to withdraw the president’s immunity. At least 105 deputies of the 158-member body must vote in favor for the measure to be approved.

At a news conference, Supreme Court Chief Justice José Baquiax said the ruling was unanimously passed by the entire bench.

It could be the first time since democracy was restored in 1985 that a president will face criminal proceedings

Pop, who filed the complaint on May 22, said in a telephone interview that he had always believed that his charges against Pérez Molina held weight.

“I admit that it was not easy to make this decision,” he said.

If Pérez Molina’s immunity is taken away from him and he is put on trial, it will be the first time since democracy was restored in 1985 that a sitting Guatemalan president will have to face criminal proceedings.

In Pop’s opinion, his move would not have been successful if he had not had the backing of Guatemalan citizens. “Public pressure has been a determining factor,” he said.

Over the past weeks, thousands of protestors have hit the streets in order to demand Pérez Molina’s resignation as an ongoing investigation widens into a customs fraud and bribery conspiracy at Guatemala’s tax agency. The scandal cost his vice president, Ingrid Roxana Baldetti, her job in May after her name surfaced in the inquiry.

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The opposition Winaq party is led by Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú.

Pérez Molina is also accused of trying to cover-up the tax agency case in order to protect his vice president and her private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, who is said to have been the ringleader of a group of corrupt officials who ran the customs houses.

Monzón has reportedly fled the country.

Last month, Pérez Molina reorganized his entire Cabinet in an effort to appease public opinion but now lawmakers appear willing to begin discussions about the president’s own future.

“I don’t think there is one deputy who will dare go against the truth that is clearly evident, which is that this government and its officials created a criminal structure to ransack the country’s resources,” Pop said.

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