Guatemalan court convicts ex-president of fraud, conspiracy

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Otto Perez Molina

FILE – Jailed, former Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina attends his pre-trial hearing for alleged corruption in Guatemala City, July 22, 2016. A Guatemalan court is expected to announce on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022 its ruling in a different case, for alleged fraud, by Perez Molina. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A court in Guatemala convicted former President Otto Pérez Molina and his vice president, Roxana Baldetti, on fraud and conspiracy counts Wednesday.

Their sentences have yet to be announced. Both were acquitted of illegal enrichment charges.

Pérez Molina and Baldetti resigned in 2015 and have been in custody on charges of permitting and benefiting from a customs graft scheme known as La Linea, or “The Line.”

The scheme involved a conspiracy to defraud the state by letting businesses evade import duties in exchange for bribes.

Around 30 others including customs officials and business people were implicated in the case, which involved about $1 million in bribes and $2 million in lost income for the government. Some of those accused were acquitted Wednesday.

Pérez Molina, who governed from 2012 to 2015, continues to deny the charges. He remains under investigation in two other cases.

“It is a lie,” the former president, 72, said during a break in the court proceedings Wednesday. “Nobody has ever said I gave an illegal order, and I never gave any. They never said I was given money. I feel disappointed and frustrated.”

Pérez Molina’s prosecution was a high point in Guatemala’s effort to combat systemic corruption, aided by the United Nations-backed anticorruption mission, known by its Spanish initials CICIG.

Over 12 years, the mission supported the Special Prosecutors Office Against Impunity in dismantling dozens of criminal networks while at the same time building their capacity to handle complex corruption cases.

Then President Jimmy Morales ended the CICIG’s mission in 2019 while he was under investigation. Anticorruption efforts have faltered since then and those who worked closely with the international mission have seen the justice system turned against them.

The U.S. government has sharply criticized the weakening of anti-corruption efforts in Guatemala and last year cancelled the U.S. visa of current Guatemalan Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who had been pursuing former prosecutors who conducted corruption investigations.

Around 30 former anti-corruption officials have fled the country.

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