Guatemala’s former President Otto Perez and his vice president, Roxana Baldetti, have been sentenced to 16 years in prison each in a graft case years after explosive corruption revelations forced the two out of office early and into prison.
According to local reports, the pair were found guilty of illicit association and customs fraud, but were acquitted on a charge of illicit enrichment.
It is imperative to note that Perez, who was president of Guatemala from 2012 to 2015, has spent the last seven years in prison awaiting a verdict in the case. It could be recalled that Baldetti was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison in 2018 in a separate fraud case.
It could be recalled that 72-year-old retired general who took office promising to crack down on crime, was forced to resign with just four months left in his term amid protests over corruption scandals.
During a break in trial, Perez reportedly told newsmen that “All that’s left is to appeal,” adding he felt “cheated” because the conviction was made “without a shred of proof.”
According to official reports, the former Guatemala’s number one and two were accused of leading a customs fraud network that stole some $3.5 million in state funds during their administration, with both Perez and Baldetti accused by investigators of receiving hefty cuts.
Investigators had charged that the two led a scheme in which importers paid bribes to avoid paying customs duties. More than two dozen others have been charged in the case.
In the recent ruling, the Guatemalan court ordered Perez to pay 8.7 million quetzales ($1.10 million) while Baldetti was fined 8.4 million quetzales ($1.06 million).
It is interesting to note that the case, known as “La Linea,” was originally investigated under the now-defunct International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), backed by the United Nations.
The head of the CICIG, Colombian Ivan Velasquez, was expelled in 2018 after his repeated attempts to investigate then-President Jimmy Morales and after jailing dozens of politicians and businessmen.
Reports had it that in the following year, Morales let the mandate authorizing the CICIG’s operations expire, shuttering the commission. Records have it that in 2021, Guatemalan investigators began to target judges, prosecutors and journalists for having collaborated with the CICIG, forcing many into exile.
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