Protesters have been demanding the President's resignation since April
He denies he was involved in a corruption scheme involving bribes for tax cuts
A judge rules that a former vice president, who resigned in May, will face trial
Amid Guatemala’s growing political crisis, the court decision was unanimous.
The Central American nation’s Supreme Court on Tuesday approved a motion by the attorney general to impeach President Otto Perez Molina over allegations he led a corruption scheme.
The case is now in the hands of the congress, which will decide whether to strip the President of immunity from prosecution, a legal benefit given to some elected officials in Guatemala.
Opposition leaders have failed several times in the past two weeks to get the votes needed to remove Perez Molina’s immunity.
According to the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office and a U.N. investigating commission, Perez Molina and a group of close aides within his administration received bribes in exchange for lowering taxes for companies seeking to import products into Guatemala.
In a message broadcast Sunday on Guatemalan national TV and radio, the President denied the charges and suggested he’s the target of a plot by his political enemies aided by foreign interests.
“I categorically deny and reject the accusation that I was involved (in a corruption scheme) and having received any money from that customs fraud scheme,” he said.
Former vice president to face trial
Prosecutors say the group was known as “La Linea” or “The Line.” The scandal engulfed Perez Molina’s administration in April, when investigators accused Roxanna Baldetti, the vice president at the time, of involvement in the scheme.
Baldetti, who resigned in May, was detained by authorities on Friday.
The judge in charge of her case determined Tuesday that she will be tried for customs fraud, illicit association and passive bribery – the same charges the President is facing.
Baldetti denies the charges and Mario Cano, her attorney, said in court Tuesday that prosecutors are targeting the wrong person.
As part of the evidence, prosecutors say they have 88,920 recordings of phone conversations. In one recording, played in court Monday, prosecutors say Perez Molina can be heard giving instructions to replace a customs official that apparently wasn’t cooperating with La Linea.
Presidential election looms
The intensifying corruption scandal comes at a delicate time in Guatemalan politics: the country is scheduled to hold presidential elections on September 6.
There have been weekly protests demanding Perez Molina’s immediate resignation since April in Guatemala City, the capital.
Yuri Ortiz was one of dozens of teachers protesting in front of the iconic National Palace on Tuesday.
“I think that the most dignified thing the president could do is to resign immediately,” Ortiz said “He knows the people of Guatemala don’t want him in power anymore because he’s a corrupt politician and a thief.”.
But presidential spokesman Jorge Ortega told CNN the president is determined to stay in power until his term ends on January 14.
“Resigning is a personal decision, but the president has a constitutional mandate that has to be respected,” he said “We can only change our leaders through a vote and not by protesting on the streets.”