Guatemala's VP resigns amid corruption accusations and political upheaval
Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned Friday, amid a growing scandal related to a customs fraud scheme. While Baldetti has not been charged, last week the Supreme Court cleared Congress to strip her of immunity, saying audio tapings hinted at her possible involvement in the case. (See last Thursday's post.) Now that Baldetti is out of office, prosecutors will be able to investigate her potential involvement in "La Línea," as the corruption scandal has been dubbed.
Baldetti's private secretary Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, has been accused by prosecutors of running the bribery ring. A total of 27 people, including the director of Guatemalan tax authority (SAT) and his predecesor in the post, have been arrested in the case which was brought forward by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).
But the evolving "La Línea" scandal is far from over. Last week three supposed leaders in the scheme were re-detained, along with their lawyers. They are accused by prosecutors of bribing a judge to obtain bail. Judge Sierra González de Stalling was accused of accepting bribes, reports Plaza Pública.
CICIG alarm bells rang when the judge allowed bail for some of the alleged corruption scheme leaders -- and all but one came up with the funds immediately, according to Plaza Pública. Family of one of the accused made cash withdrawals of nearly $250,000 for bail before the judge announced her decision.
The CICIG commissioner, Iván Velásquez noted that investigators were helped in this latest chapter by the fact that two of the accused leaders continued to use their phones -- which were tapped -- after the scheme broke.
The story just keeps getting more convoluted. The AP reports that the phone taps link Guatemalan Supreme Court Judge Blanca Aída Stalling Dávila -- González de Stalling's sister-in-law -- to the supposed bribery as well. Stalling denies involvement.
Baldetti's resignation leaves the administration dead in the water, according to the AFP. Guatemalan's are feeling negative about politics at the moment, according to the piece.
The next question facing the political establishment is who will replace Baldetti. President Otto Pérez Molina must propose three candidates to Congress, which will then make the final selection. The new VP must ensure governability in the midst of increasing citizen rejection of the government. Amid rumors that Pérez Molina himself might be involved in La Línea, Nómada says the new VP must also have the "will to be president."
In the midst of the political upheaval, the upcoming presidential race for September elections is uncertain. Pérez Molina is barred from running again, and the likely candidate for his party jumped ship in the midst of the scandal, complaining that Baldetti was blocking him. Manuel Baldizón, a wealthy populist who lost to Pérez Molina in the last elections, is the front-runner, reports the New York Times.
The CICIG investigation into "La Línea," conducted with the help of a special investigation unity in the Public Prosecutor's Office shows the "increasing sophistication and professionalization of Guatemalan investigators," according to the International Crisis Group's Guatemala analyst, Arturo Matute. The investigation's documentary evidence includes financial records, 66,000 intercepted telephone conversations and over 6,000 electronic messages, which means prosecutors won't be relying on witness testimony or confessions to obtain convictions.
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