Guatemala’s highest court on Wednesday asked the country’s Congress to decide whether to strip the legal immunity of President Otto Perez Molina amid a major corruption scandal and calls for his resignation. The Supreme Court accepted the motion from opposition lawmaker Amilcar Pop, passing it along to the Congress for further evaluation, Deutsche Welle reported.
Perez Molina’s administration has faced criticism and resignation calls since an April investigation by the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala accused him and several other top officials of running La Linea (The Line), a customs bribery ring. Its alleged ringleader, Secretary to the Vice President Juan Carlos Monzón, was outside the country when the news broke and is absconding since then. Investigators had alleged that the officials were involved in a scheme where businesses paid millions of dollars in bribes in order to bypass import taxes.
"This is a body blow politically for the president because unfortunately in this country [legal] immunity has guaranteed [elected officials can act with] impunity," political science scholar Marcio Palacios at the University of San Carlos told Deutsche Welle, referring to the court's ruling. "The president is cornered. And he has no option but to resign."
Perez Molina has also been linked to another scheme where kickbacks were allegedly given in exchange for preferred and overpriced contracts from the country’s Social Security Institute, which prompted the arrest of the central bank head and the entire board of the institute. Prosecutors have said that the pharmaceutical company, which allegedly benefited from the contracts, lacked experience in performing dialyses and its shoddy procedures resulted in five deaths.
The revelations led to a wave of high-profile arrests in April and May, including that of former presidential secretary Juan de Dios Rodriguez over fraud charges. Several other officials were either fired by Perez Molina, or resigned from their posts, including former vice president Roxana Baldetti, who stepped down after being linked to La Linea, but denied any wrongdoing.
Perez Molina has also faced months of protests over the scandal from Guatemalans demanding new presidential elections. The firings and arrests have failed to pacify the growing public movement, Renuncia Ya (Resign Now), which calls for his immediate resignation and an end to corruption.
Guatemala was ranked 115 of 175 countries in the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International.