Court jails former Guatemalan president, deputy for 16 years over corruption

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A Guatemalan court has sentenced former President Otto Perez to 16 years in prison, after finding him guilty of leading a massive customs fraud scheme while in office.

While reading out the sentence, Judge Irma Valdes stated that Perez, who was forced to resign in 2015, was convicted of racketeering and fraud targeting the customs system.

Consequently, Perez was sentenced to eight years on each count, just as his former deputy, Roxana Baldetti, received the same sentence.

A United Nations-backed anti-corruption body uncovered several scandals in Guatemala before it was shut down in 2019 by then-President Jimmy Morales after it began investigating him.

One of the anti-corruption body’s key successes was uncovering a multimillion-dollar scheme to cheat Guatemala’s customs duty system, which ultimately led to Perez’s resignation.

Those involved in the scheme, known as “La Linea” (The Line), were said to have received bribes of some $3.5 million, according to investigators, who estimate that Guatemala was defrauded out of almost $10 million in tax revenue.

Realing to the court ruling, 72-year-old Perez said “I truly feel frustrated, I feel disappointed.”

He further said he would appeal the ruling.

Sixteen other people involved in the scam were convicted during the sentencing, while 11 others were acquitted.

The director of Transparency International’s local chapter, Citizen Action, Edie Cux, said “The ‘La Linea’ case is one of the most symbolic and is a milestone in Guatemalan history”.

Cux added “It is important that in some way the people of Guatemala have justice and that the case does not go unpunished”.