Guatemala president resigns in face of scandal

Otto Perez Molina is to appear before a judge. Picture: AP
Otto Perez Molina is to appear before a judge. Picture: AP
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GUATEMALA’s president Otto Perez Molina has resigned in the face of a corruption scandal that has brought his government to the brink, a spokesman said ­yesterday.

Spokesman Jorge Ortega said Mr Molina submitted his resignation at midnight on Wednesday after a judge issued an order to detain him in the customs fraud case, which has already led to the jailing of his vice-president, and the resignation of several cabinet ministers who withdrew their support for the president.

His resignation, the first by a Guatemalan president, is not effective until Congress accepts it and names a successor. It was to convene yesterday to do so.

A growing protest movement had brought together Guatemalans from all walks of life demanding that Mr Molina steps down. Business leaders and even Catholic church officials had called for him to resign in recent weeks as the investigation of the customs fraud ring has widenend to other officials.

Mr Molina was steadfast in his plan to stay until the judge’s unprecedented order, dealing the most serious blow yet to entrenched political corruption in the Central American country.

Mr Ortega said that, in the end, Mr Molina submitted his resignation “to maintain the institution of the presidency and resolve on his own the legal proceedings levelled against him”.

Mr Molina, 64, has maintained his innocence.

Vice-president Alejandro Maldonado is in line to succeed. Mr Maldonado, a conservative lawyer and former judge, was chosen to replace former vice-president Roxana Baldetti, who resigned in May because of the same scandal and is now jailed and facing charges. She too maintains her innocence.

Mr Maldonado would probably remain in office until the winner of upcoming elections is inaugurated next January. The first round is on Sunday, ­pitting a wealthy businessman and politician against 13 other candidates, including a comedian with no political experience, a former first lady and the daughter of an former dictator accused of genocide. If none of the candidates reaches 50 per cent, a run-off election will be held in late October.

Guatemalans’ reaction was initially quiet as the news played out in the middle of the night.

The order to detain Mr Molina is not for his arrest, but rather for him to make a declaration before Judge Miguel Angel Galvea, who granted the request on Wednesday from attorney general Thelma Aldana.

The president will have to appear on accusations of illicit association, fraud and receiving bribe money.

No formal charges have been filed, though Ms Aldana said a preliminary investigation was under way into the president’s possible involvement in the fraud ring.