President’s Fall Puts Focus on Guatemala Courts

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Former President Otto Perez Molina’s move from presidential palace to prison provides a true test for Guatemala’s notoriously corrupt justice system. 

Perez Molina has gone from holding the nation’s highest office to spending his first night in jail. He faces charges of fraud, racketeering and receiving bribes in connection to Guatemala’s La Linea customs fraud scandal.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

Judge Miguel Angel Galvez placed the ex-President under provisional detention for his own safety and due to the potential flight risk. Galvez is the same judge who earlier this year ordered the provisional detention of Perez Molina’s former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, also in connection with the Linea corruption probe. 

Perez Molina resigned as president a day earlier, after being stripped of his presidential immunity by congress. Former Constitutional Court member Alejandro Maldonado has become President in his stead. Upon entering office Maldonado requested the resignations of Guatemala’s ministers and other top officials, in order to form a transitional government.  

InSight Crime Analysis

By bringing Perez Molina to trial, Guatemala is entering new territory, but it remains to be seen whether this new attack on impunity will extend to the nation’s notoriously corrupt courts.

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Guatemala’s Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges are chosen through a 34-person selection committee. Around this process a system of appointments for favors has developed, said Myrna Mack Foundation analyst Israel Santizo. “It’s not necessarily direct bribery. More a culture of ‘I put you in a high position and now you owe me'” he added. 

The most powerful of these interest groups is the “oficialista” or official bloc, a group with links to the former President, as an InSight Crime investigation revealed.

Normally this would bode well for Perez Molina’s chances of escaping conviction, but with so much public scrutiny on the courts, any judge doing favors for the ex-President would be putting their careers at risk, Santizo said. “They’re running like a well-oiled clock at the moment.” 

According to the analyst, within this new scenario, Perez Molina’s chances of avoiding conviction rest not on judicial corruption, but instead creating a reasonable doubt over whether his recorded conversations with other La Linea suspects prove his guilt. 

Unfortunately for the ex-President each recording, which are being made public, appears more damning than the last. “I don’t think he has a chance to escape justice,” Santizo said.

Ex-President Otto Perez Molina receives preventative detention

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