Guatemala’s former leader Otto Perez Molina said he was innocent in court on Friday after resigning over a customs corruption scandal on Thursday.
Prosecutors accused Perez Molina of being involved in a scheme which allowed businesses to evade import taxes by bribing corrupt officials at a fraction of the cost.
“The first thing I want to deny, I don’t belong to ‘La Linea,'” Perez Molina said in court. “La Linea” or “The Line” refers to the hotline importers called to access a network of officials who would accept the bribes. The entire scheme, which was originally uncovered by UN investigators, allegedly defrauded the state millions of dollars.
“Your honour, I am not going to risk my dignity, my work, nor all the effort I have made for Guatemala in return for $800,000,” Perez Molina said alluding to the amount of money prosecutors say Perez pocketed. The judge announced he would make a ruling on Tuesday on whether or not a trial would take place.
“Personally I am very saddened,” the former leader said as he returned to military custody. He hoped to be granted bond or house arrest. “No jail is good… I hope the judge gives me an alternative,” Perez Molina said.
The scandal has left Guatemalans feeling outraged ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections. Tens of thousands of demonstrators who called for Perez Molina’s resignation also demanded that the election be postponed. Many believe the current candidate line-up is not much better than previous administrations.
“They feel like voting is simply selecting the next person who will loot the country,” said Manfredo Marroquin, president of civic group Citizen Action. Critics of the elections are urging people to wear black at the polls or to abstain completely.
“They are not rejecting democracy,” Marroquin said. “What they’re demanding is to reset, run an anti-virus and start over from scratch.”
The presidential hopefuls include lawyer Manuel Baldizon, comedian Jimmy Morales (who famously played a naive cowboy who accidentally becomes president), former first lady Sandra Torres, and Zury Rios, the daughter of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt.