Guatemalan ex-president, Vice President convicted of fraud, conspiracy

Guatemalan ex-president, Vice President convicted of fraud, conspiracy

GUATEMALA CITY — A court in Guatemala convicted former President Otto P rez Molina and his vice president Roxana Baldetti of fraud and conspiracy charges Wednesday.

Their sentences are yet to be announced. Both were acquitted of illegal enrichment charges.

P rez Molina and Baldetti resigned in 2015, and have been in jail on charges of permitting and benefiting from a customs graft scheme known as La Linea, or The Line. The scheme involved a conspiracy to defraud the state by letting businesses evade import duties in exchange for bribes.

Around 30 others, including customs officials and business people, were involved in the case, which involved about $1 million in bribes and $2 million in lost income for the government. Some of the accused were acquitted Wednesday.

P rez Molina, who ran from 2012 to 2015, denies the charges. He remains under investigation in two other cases.

The former president, 72, said during a break in court proceedings that it is a lie. Nobody has ever said I gave an illegal order, and I never gave any. They never said I was given money. I feel frustrated and disappointed. P rez Molina's prosecution was a high point in Guatemala's effort to combat systemic corruption, aided by the United Nations-backed anticorruption mission, known as its Spanish initials CICIG.

Over 12 years, the mission supported the Special Prosecutors Office Against Impunity in dismantling dozens of criminal networks while building their capacity to handle complex corruption cases.

President Jimmy Morales ended the mission of the CICIG in 2019 while he was under investigation. Since then, anticorruption efforts have faltered and those who worked closely with the international mission have seen the justice system turn against them.

The U.S. government criticized the weakening of anti-corruption efforts in Guatemala and last year cancelled the visa of current Guatemalan Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who had been pursuing former prosecutors who had been involved in corruption investigations.

Around 30 former anti-corruption officials have fled the country.