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Otto Perez Molina. Courtesy of telezkope.com

Guatemala’s president stripped of immunity

Guatemala’s president, Otto Perez Molina, has been banned from leaving the country. Suspected of being involved in a huge corruption scandal the president has been stripped of immunity from prosecution.

On Tuesday, all 132 members of the Guatemalan parliament who were present voted to remove Mr Molina’s immunity.

Prosecutors then went on to convince a judge to impose a travel ban, citing his illicit association, bribery and customs fraud. The prosecution had previously stated that it’s highly likely Mr. Molina, 64, was involved in “La Linea” a corruption scandal that has gripped the country. The retired general who was originally elected on a ticket to combat both crime and corruption has repeatedly denied these accusations.

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All of this comes prior to a presidential election, which is to be held this Sunday. Under the constitution Mr. Molina is not allowed to run for re-election and is set to remain in office until January when he will handover his position.

“La Linea”, also referred to as “The Line”, is believed to involve bribes that were paid by businessmen as a way of avoiding import taxes. The state is said to have lost millions as a result of the corruption.

If proceeding continue as expected the president could soon see himself being summoned to appear in court or alternatively he could be facing a warrant for his detention.

Although the vote to remove Mr. Molina’s immunity does not remove him from office, it is within a judge’s power, under Guatemalan law, to suspend the president if he is detained whilst awaiting trial.

The scandal has already resulted in many of the president cabinet members leaving, with the vice president even being lost as a result. Mr. Molina refuses to step aside, insisting that he is innocent and has said that he will co-operate with investigators.

The presidents opposition deem Mr. Molina’s stripped immunity to be a victory in what they have referred to as a battle against corruption.

Attorney General Thelma Aldana explained “In the eyes of the justice system he is now a common citizen given he no longer has immunity, and so there will be a criminal prosecution against the president.

“Guatemala is showing that no one is above the law” Aldana believes that the ruling sends a strong message “As a result, this is a message for all current and future public servants that our behaviour must be subject to the constitution.”

Since his election in 2011 Mr. Molina has not shied away from controversy, not long after being elected the president made his opinion on drugs clear, fighting to legalise them and vehemently opposing the US’s “war on drugs” stance.

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