GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Fighting graft accusations, Guatemala’s former President Otto Perez said on Friday he could have made “10 or 15 times” the money he is accused of stealing if he had taken bribes offered by powerful Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Perez resigned as president on Thursday and was jailed while a judge weighs charging him in a corruption scandal that sparked widespread protests and upended his government ahead of Sunday’s presidential election.
A judge ordered him to remain in jail until his hearing resumes on Tuesday.
Returning to court for his second day of hearings, Perez said Guzman tried to buy him off shortly after he was captured in Guatemala in 1993. Guzman spent almost a decade in a high security prison near the Mexican city of Guadalajara, before bribing guards to escape in 2001.
Perez, a 64-year-old retired army general, said he led the operation that resulted in Guzman’s arrest over 20 years ago.
“The first thing (Guzman) did was try and negotiate,” Perez told the judge. “The (bribe) offer we got after his capture is perhaps 10 or 15 times the amount that you’re accusing me of here, and I didn’t do it because it went against my principles.”
Perez is accused by prosecutors of stealing $3.7 million in a customs scheme.
Guzman is one of the world’s top crime bosses, running the Sinaloa Cartel, which has smuggled billions of dollars worth of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines into the United States.
After eluding capture for 13 years, Guzman was arrested in February 2014 in his home state of Sinaloa. He was behind bars for just over a year before breaking free from his maximum-security lockup in July through a tunnel built right into his cell. He remains at large.
Perez has not yet been formally charged, and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Prosecutors allege he was involved in a multimillion-dollar customs scam dubbed “La Linea” (“The Line”), referring to a phone hotline used by importers to avoid paying customs duties in exchange for bribes.
Perez faces likely charges of criminal association, taking bribes and customs fraud, prosecutors have said. He is also being investigated for money laundering.
Perez was elected in late 2011 on a ticket to fight crime and corruption. Under Guatemala’s constitution, he was not allowed to seek re-election in Sunday’s presidential vote.
Former Vice President Alejandro Maldonado was sworn in on Thursday as president to fill out the remaining months of Perez’s term. The judge hearing Perez’s case must now decide whether there is enough evidence to charge Perez, and if so, whether he should await trail in jail.
Reporting by Enrique Andres Pretel; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Simon Gardner, Tom Brown and Andrew Hay