Accused leader of Guatemala corruption ring turns himself in

AP News
Posted: Oct 05, 2015 9:12 PM
Accused leader of Guatemala corruption ring turns himself in

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — The alleged leader of a customs corruption scandal that has rocked the Guatemalan government told a judge Monday that former President Otto Perez Molina and former Vice-President Roxana Baldetti actually drove the scheme.

One day after turning himself in following months on the run, Juan Carlos Monzon Rojas, Baldetti's former personal secretary, told judge during his initial court appearance that he was just following orders.

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala confirmed that Monzon Rojas surrendered Sunday night. A Guatemala judge had set his initial hearing for early Monday. The hearing began with the playing of intercepted phone calls and later Monzon Rojas himself addressed the court.

He said any member of the governing Patriot Party's Cabinet "could affirm that you didn't do anything without the knowledge and approval of either of the two, Otto Perez or Roxana Baldetti."

Monzon Rojas is accused by authorities of being the head of a corruption ring known as "La Linea," in which businesses allegedly paid kickbacks to government officials in exchange for lower import duties. It is believed that the scheme bilked the government out of millions of dollars.

Monzon Rojas faces charges of customs fraud, bribery and criminal organization. Police raided two properties in the capital's suburbs on Sept. 30, without finding Monzon Rojas. He said Monday that he had tried to turn himself in earlier, but an attempt on his wife's life stopped him. He said he was concerned about his safety and that the truth would only be known if the court guaranteed his safety.

The country's former rulers "have the ability to order me silenced," he said. "I am the missing link the detectives needed." Pending a hearing tomorrow on whether he will be held, Monzon, wearing a bullet-proof vest, was taken under tight security to a maximum security prison for the night.

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He called for the press to investigate who the big businessmen are who defraud the country's customs agency.

The recordings played Monday showed how the scheme worked with authorities outside the tax agency negotiating how much would be charged to businessmen trying to illegally import items into the country.

The scandal so far has caused Perez Molina and Baldetti to resign. Both are jailed and facing charges for allegedly receiving the illegal payments. Prosecutors and the international commission have said Perez Molina and Baldetti were fully aware of the scheme and received half of the kickbacks paid.

A judge has frozen their bank accounts.

Some 40 people are being prosecuted in connection with the case, while more than 100 are under investigation. The international commission has said there are at least 88,000 wiretaps and thousands of documents confirming their involvement.