NEW: The President's attorney says he'll appear in front of a judge to face accusations
Lawmakers vote to strip President Otto Pérez Molina of his immunity
Guatemala's attorney general says the President is barred from leaving the country
Guatemala’s Congress voted Tuesday to strip President Otto Pérez Molina of his immunity.
It’s a key step that paves the way for Pérez Molina’s possible prosecution as part of a corruption investigation that has shaken his government and sparked protests calling for his resignation.
The President is now prohibited from leaving the country and a warrant could be issued for his arrest, Attorney General Thelma Aldana told CNN en Español on Tuesday night.
According to the Attorney General’s Office and a U.N. investigating commission, Pérez 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 on Guatemalan national TV and radio last month, the then-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.
On Tuesday, Pérez Molina’s lawyer told CNN en Español that the President was prepared to appear in front of a judge in Guatemala and face the accusations against him.
“The President has not run away, has not hidden, will not flee and will not seek asylum,” attorney César Calderón said.
At least 105 votes were needed to strip the then-President’s immunity – a number opposition leaders have struggled to amass in the past. But on Tuesday, the vote was unanimous, with all 132 representatives who were present voting in favor of the move. An additional 26 lawmakers were absent and did not participate in the vote.
The intensifying corruption scandal comes at a delicate time in Guatemalan politics. The country is scheduled to hold presidential elections on Sunday.
There have been weekly protests demanding Molina’s immediate resignation since April in the country’s capital. Pérez Molina had said he won’t step down, only to reverse course Wednesday.
In May, Roxana Baldetti stepped down as Guatemala’s vice president after investigators accused her of involvement in the scheme. She was detained by authorities last week.
The judge in charge of her case has said she’ll be tried for customs fraud, illicit association and passive bribery – the same accusations the President is facing.
Baldetti denies the charges and Mario Cano, her attorney, said in court that prosecutors are targeting the wrong person.
CNN en Español’s Ismael Cala, Fernando Del Rincón and Ana Melgar contributed to this report.