GUATEMALA CITY – A Guatemala judge has ordered President Otto Perez Molina to appear before a judge after Congress withdrew immunity of office this week, moving forward on his possible prosecution in a customs corruption scandal that has sparked massive street protests. A court has barred him from leaving the country during the investigation, though he remains president of the Central American nation.
Here's what to look for as the case moves forward.
WHAT ARE THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST PEREZ MOLINA?
Prosecutor Thelma Aldana says the president is suspected of illicit association, fraud and receiving bribe money in connection with a conspiracy that is believed to have bilked the government out of millions of dollars. Officials allegedly took bribes in exchange for letting businesses evade import duties through the customs agency. Former Vice President Roxana Baldetti is already in jail awaiting trial on similar accusations. Both deny any wrongdoing; charges have been filed against Baldetti, but not yet against Perez Molina.
UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES MIGHT HE CEASE TO BE PRESIDENT?
Perez Molina could resign, but so far he has refused calls from business, religious, government and protest leaders to do so.
The judge could remove him from office depending on his declaration. His lawyer made a legal filing Wednesday declaring Perez Molina's "good will" to appear. After he testifies, the judge would decide whether the case goes forward and, possibly, order him held pending trial. In that case, prosecutors say they would seek to have Perez Molina removed from the presidency, and it would be up to the judge to decide.
IF THAT HAPPENS, WHO BECOMES PRESIDENT?
Vice President Alejandro Maldonado is constitutionally in line to assume the presidency. Maldonado, a conservative lawyer and former Constitutional Court judge, became VP this year when Congress picked him from a shortlist of Perez Molina nominees. He replaced Baldetti, who resigned May 8 due to the corruption scandal. Maldonado would presumably remain in office until the winner of upcoming elections is inaugurated Jan. 14, 2016.
HOW WILL THE LEGAL CASE AGAINST PEREZ MOLINA PROCEED?
Timetables for criminal prosecutions are spelled out by Guatemalan law. For example, after Perez Molina appears before a judge following his detention order, prosecutors have three months to present evidence for a judge to order a trial. However there are often significant delays due to legal maneuvers, and it usually takes about a year to bring a suspect to trial. That could differ for Perez Molina depending on whether his case is linked to that of other suspects in the corruption probe. The courts could also freeze his assets, as has happened with Baldetti.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN FOR SUNDAY'S ELECTION?
Not much, apparently. Political analyst Oscar Pelaez Almengor says the legal process against Perez Molina has "no effect" on the vote since elections are mandated by the constitution and overseen by the Supreme Electoral Court, not the presidency. So it looks highly unlikely that protesters' demands to postpone the vote will be met. However widespread anger over corruption and dissatisfaction with the current candidates could lead many to abstain or cast spoiler votes, undermining the eventual winner's mandate.