August 21, 2015 / 7:24 PM / 2 years ago

Guatemala prosecutors seek to impeach president after ex-VP's arrest

Journalists wait outside a hospital where former Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti was arrested while receiving medical treatment, in Guatemala City, August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Josue Decavele

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Prosecutors sought to impeach Guatemalan President Otto Perez on Friday over a corruption scandal that led to the arrest of his former vice president, deepening a government crisis ahead of presidential elections next month.

Perez’s conservative administration has spent the past few months mired in public protests and scandals over corruption allegations against senior officials, several of whom the retired general fired during a cabinet purge in May.

Prosecutor Thelma Aldana said at a press conference that it was “highly probable” that recordings of telephone conversations of people involved in the customs corruption racket had referred to Perez.

Earlier on Friday, former vice president Roxana Baldetti was arrested while she was receiving treatment at a hospital.

“The alleged crimes are illicit association, bribery as well as a special instance of fraud related to her links with ... customs fraud,” said Francisco Sandoval, a senior prosecutor.

Baldetti has denied any wrongdoing.

Perez, whose Patriot Party is way behind in polls before a first round of voting on Sept. 6, was at an event outside the capital and had few words for reporters as he got into his car. “I greatly regret this,” he said.

Perez’s spokesman, Jorge Ortega, said the president was unlikely to step down.

“I don’t think he’s going to resign,” Ortega said. “There’s a group of political advisors who will provide the executive with a series of options following these latest developments.”

Last week, Perez narrowly avoided losing his presidential immunity from prosecution when not enough members of Congress voted to revoke it so he could face investigation over the scandals.

If the Supreme Court approves prosecutors’ impeachment request, Congress would still have to give its consent.

Baldetti stepped down in May under pressure over reports that she was involved in the illegal payment of fees to avoid customs duties. Her chief aide, who is also implicated in the scandal, disappeared after joining her on a trip to South Korea in April.

The investigations into graft in the Central American country have been led by a U.N.-backed anti-corruption body known as the CICIG, which has pushed for Perez’s impeachment.

The CICIG’s findings have also hit the center-right opposition Lider party, whose election candidate Manuel Baldizon is leading opinion polls.

No candidates are expected to win more than 50 percent of the vote on Sept. 6, so the presidential election is likely to move to a second round run-off on Oct. 25.

Additional reporting by Enrique Pretel; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Grant McCool

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