Although the walls are closing in on Guatemala President Otto Perez Molina, due to new revelations of his involvement in a massive corruption case, he may yet avoid prison.
Guatemala’s Supreme Court unanimously approved the Attorney General’s motion to strip the president of his immunity, forwarding the case to Congress, where lawmakers will decide what happens next.
Perez Molina’s center-right Patriotic Party, and its ally, the Lider party, currently hold a majority in Congress, which helped put an end to a previous attempt — spearheaded by the opposition — to vote to remove his immunity. However, with Guatemala’s general election two weeks away, Lider party leaders may find it difficult to defend Guatemala’s “most disputed president ever,” argued investigative news website Nomada.
The president has repeatedly said he will not resign.
Under Guatemalan law, Perez Molina’s presidency will end the moment a judge decides to place him in preventative detention. At that moment, Vice President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre will become the new head of state.
InSight Crime Analysis
Guatemalan courts are notoriously easy for special interests to corrupt and manipulate. As InSight Crime has documented, this has allowed elites to turn the country into what is practically a mafia state.
SEE ALSO: The War for Guatemala’s Courts
If Congress decides to strip the president of his immunity, the case will then be heard before a judge, who may decide the case doesn’t merit a trial.
And even if Perez Molina’s case does make it that far, previous trials involving Guatemala’s top political elites set a poor precedent for justice.
For example, ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt was convicted in 2013 of genocide and crimes against humanity. His 80-year sentence was then overturned on a technicality and he was later declared mentally unfit for sentencing.
If genocide can go unpunished, Perez Molina may have a chance of escaping prison time over alleged customs fraud. On the other hand, if a sitting president in Guatemala is impeached and sentenced, this would send an unprecedented message to Guatemala’s corrupt elites that the days of de facto impunity are over.