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U.N.-backed anti-graft body to probe ex-Guatemala leader's assets
September 4, 2015 / 5:56 PM / 2 years ago

U.N.-backed anti-graft body to probe ex-Guatemala leader's assets

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Enough documentary evidence exists to prove former Guatemalan President Otto Perez’s involvement in a corruption scandal, the head of a powerful U.N.-backed anti-graft body which helped topple the leader and will scrutinize his wealth said.

Perez, 64, resigned as president and was jailed on Thursday while a judge weighs charging him in a corruption scandal that gutted his government and plunged the country into a political crisis days before a presidential election.

Perez has repeatedly rejected allegations he profited in a customs racket known as “La Linea” (The Line), a reference to a phone hotline for importers looking to avoid customs duties in exchange for bribes.

Prosecutors have said the charges to be brought against Perez are illicit association, taking bribes and customs fraud, but he has not yet been charged.

“We’re going to investigate everything,” Ivan Velasquez, head of U.N.-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), said late Thursday. “The next step is to examine Mr. Perez’s wealth.”

He said the body had “sufficient documentation” to prove Perez’ involvement, and would analyze the fallen president’s “financial information, accounts, real estate, and the eventual presence of frontmen.”

Velasquez said he would seek a three-month window from the judge overseeing the case to continue to investigate other fronts against Perez.

Beyond wiretaps, evidence against Perez includes documents among thousands seized during raids, as well as proof of a meeting between Perez and other alleged members of La Linea at a property belonging to his political party.

So far, the investigation has found that a dozen small and medium-sized importers of goods mostly coming from Asia have been implicated in the scam.

The CICIG, created by the United Nations and the Guatemalan government, has been instrumental in pushing forward corruption accusations against Perez and other members of his administration.

The aim of the commission, which began operating in 2007, is to support the prosecutor’s office and other governmental bodies that perform criminal investigations, according to its mandate.

Velasquez said he thinks the CICIG model is “exportable to other countries.”

In Honduras, a coalition of opposition political groups has demanded the creation of an independent entity like CICIG to investigate a corruption scandal at the Institute of Social Security.

However, bodies like CICIG can only be created by the United Nations if a sovereign government requests them.

Writing by Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein; Editing by Simon Gardner and Richard Chang

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