Otto Pérez Molina out as Guatemala’s President, ordered to jail

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download (63)One day ago, Otto Pérez Molina was Guatemala’s President.

By Thursday, he not only had lost that job, but was in custody.

Guatemala’s Attorney General issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for Pérez Molina in connection with acorruption investigation that has shaken the governmentand sparked protests. The 64-year-old former military commander responded by submitting his resignation — an offer that the Central American country’s Congress, by a 118-0 vote, accepted.

A short time later, Alejandro Maldonado — who had been vice president — was sworn in as successor.

Judge Miguel Angel Gálvez ordered Pérez Molina be held in the Matamoros jail in Guatemala City.

The investigation

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.

To the polls

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.

New President has experience as ambassador, minister

Guatemala’s 49th President finds himself in the middle of this mess, even though he is no stranger to politics.

The 79-year-old Maldonado has had many roles as Guatemala City council member, congressman, education minister and his country’s ambassador to Mexico and the United Nations.

How well this experience serves him in his new role, and given the tenuous situation, remains to be seen. Maldonado rose to the vice presidency on May 14, six days after predecessor Roxanna Baldetti resigned — after being accused of corruption.

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Hamilton Nwosa

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