GUATEMALA CITY – A special congressional commission on Saturday recommended the removal of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina’s immunity from criminal prosecution due to his alleged involvement in a massive customs fraud case that has brought the administration to the brink of collapse.
“The investigative commission recommends to the full Congress that Otto Pérez Molina should be submitted to the tribunals of justice and that his immunity should be removed,” opposition lawmaker and commission member Jorge Barrios said at a press conference.
To remove the president’s immunity, Congress must call a full session and receive at least 105 affirmative votes of 158 lawmakers. On Monday, the legislative directorate is expected to formally receive the commission’s recommendation and set a date for the hearing.
Prior to issuing its unanimous recommendation, the five members of the commission reviewed a written report submitted by President Pérez Molina in which he denied his involvement in the so-called “La Línea” scandal, which made headlines on April 16.
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Pérez Molina’s attorney, César Calderón, told reporters that the law did not require the president to be present at the commission hearing. Calderón reiterated that his client would not step down despite massive public protests calling for his resignation.
According to a criminal investigation by the U.N.-supported International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), President Pérez Molina was one of the masterminds of the La Línea criminal network, which sought bribes from businesses in exchange for evasion of customs duties.
On Aug. 21, prosecutors and CICIG filed a formal complaint with Guatemala’s Supreme Court seeking the removal of the president’s immunity from prosecution. The court accepted the request and ordered Congress to begin hearings on the matter.
Pérez Molina’s former vice president, Roxana Baldetti, is being held in preventive prison pending a trial on her alleged involvement in the case. She was charged with illicit association, customs fraud and bribery last Tuesday.