An alleged top member of the customs fraud ring in Guatemala known as "La Linea" has incriminated former President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti, an ominous sign of what lies ahead for the fallen presidential duo.
On September 28, Salvador Estuardo Gonzalez Alvarez, alias "Eco," confessed in court to participating in La Linea, and testified that Perez Molina and Baldetti were the biggest earners from the cutoms fraud network that lowered taxes on importers in exchange for kickbacks, reported el Periodico.
Authorities initially accused Gonzalez Alvarez -- the former president of Guatemalan newspaper Siglo 21 -- of being La Linea's second-in-command, behind Baldetti's former private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzon. However, investigators now say intercepted phone conversations between members of La Linea referring to "number one and "number two" alluded to Perez Molina and Baldetti, respectively. The former president and vice president as well as Gonzalez Alvarez have been incarcerated for their alleged participation in La Linea, while Monzon remains a fugitive.
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According to Gonzalez Alvarez, both Perez Molina and Baldetti received 21.25 percent of all illicit proceeds from La Linea, while Monzon took in 5 percent and Gonzalez Alvarez earned 2.5 percent. (See pie chart below) Gonzalez Alvarez added that he held several meetings with Perez Molina, at least one of which included the former head of Guatemala's customs authority (SAT), Carlos Muñoz, who is also implicated in the scandal but has denied claims he met with members of La Linea.
InSight Crime Analysis
Gonzalez Alvarez's testimony is a significant blow to Perez Molina and Baldetti, who have both repeatedly denied their involvement in La Linea. Gonzalez Alvarez has personal links to Perez Molina, and is described by el Periodico as a "confidant" of the former president and vice president. Gonzalez Alvarez's willingness to testify despite this close relationship suggests other alleged members of La Linea with no such connections to Perez Molina and Baldetti may follow suit.
This possibility becomes more likely if prosecutors are offering witnesses legal benefits in exchange for their testimony. Manfredo Marroquin, head of the Guatemalan civil society group Accion Ciudadana, told InSight Crime it is "very probable" that Gonzalez Alvarez is providing information on Perez Molina and Baldetti in the hopes of receiving a reduced prison sentence.
Although Guatemala's judicial authorities have a poor track record of prosecuting ex-presidents, the testimony by Gonzalez Alvarez -- as well as any forthcoming witnesses -- may yet be enough to help lead to a landmark conviction.