Guatemala's VP could lose immunity
Guatemala's Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Congress can strip Vice President Roxana Baldetti of immunity, forcing her to face an investigation regarding a customs corruption racket allegedly led by her personal secretary. Intercepted phone calls link the VP to alleged bribery to avoid customs taxes, according to Reuters.
The corruption scheme -- dubbed "La Línea" -- is being investigated by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and has led to 24 arrests in the past couple of weeks, including the director of Guatemalan tax authority (SAT) and his predecesor in the post. Authorities are looking for Baldetti's former top aide, Juan Carlos Monzón who disappeared during an official visit to South Korea, reports Univisión.
Phone taps of La Línea's integrants from the investigation make reference to "The R," "The Lady," and "Number 2," which the Supreme Court interprets as a reference to Baldetti. The investigation involves more than 66,000 tapped conversations, reports Reuters.
Baldetti's case will be evaluated by a congressional commission, which will determine whether there is enough evidence to strip the VP of her immunity. The selection of members of the commission will be done by lot, according to El Periódico.
The case comes in an electoral year, and finds Congress in disarray, notes Plaza Pública. There have been 26 attempts to convene the 158 diputados, without success. The governing Partido Patriota does not have a majority, though its ally, Libertad Democrática, does and could maintain itself separate from the moves against Baldetti. Several PP lawmakers -- as well as its leading presidential candidate -- have defected from the PP.
The CICIG was set up in 2007 after Guatemala asked for help in investigating serious crimes, and its staff of police and prosecutors from 25 nations has helped bring 161 public officials to trial for corruption.
Protests against the government have been ongoing since the scandal broke last month, with huge impact on social media. A protest last month after the scandal broke had over 15,000 people. A manifestation slated for May 16, with the organizing hashtag "#RenuncieYa2." A couple hundred people gathered last night demanding the VP's resignation. And a group of people have spent the past week chained to a government building. Guatemalan business leaders joined in the clamor, yesterday, saying Baldetti's resignation would be good for the country.
A spokesperson for the VP said yesterday that she will not be resigning, reports El Periódico.
Plaza Pública notes that the court maintained President Otto Pérez Molina's protection, indicating lack of evidence regarding his involvement. Opposition lawmakers say the president covered up for Baldetti and say he was involved in the scheme. Heads must roll, Plaza Pública says in an editorial, but a presidential resignation -- just five months before an election -- would be an institutional disaster. Instead, he should renounce immunity as a gesture of transparency and good faith, suggests the piece.
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