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Guatemalan president's immunity lifted in corruption scandal

Published 02/09/2015

Demonstrators react in jubilation as they hear that Congress has voted to withdraw President Otto Perez Molina's immunity from prosecution (AP)
Demonstrators react in jubilation as they hear that Congress has voted to withdraw President Otto Perez Molina's immunity from prosecution (AP)

Guatemala's Congress lifted President Otto Perez Molina's immunity of office, opening him up to possible prosecution in a widening customs corruption scandal that has rocked his administration and the country's political system.

With all 132 members present in the 158-seat assembly voting to approve the historic measure, prosecutors are now free to file criminal charges against Mr Perez Molina just like any other citizen, and a judge would be able to order his detention.

The congressional vote does not remove the president from office, but a judge later granted an order barring him from travelling outside the country.

"Guatemala is showing that nobody is above the law, and as a result this is a message for all current and future public servants that our behaviour must be subject to the constitution," prosecutor Thelma Aldana said.

About 200 people outside the capitol hugged each other, cheered, waved Guatemalan flags and set off firecrackers as news of the vote reached them, an echo of earlier massive street protests calling for his removal from office.

"Excellent! It is a step forward for Guatemala," said Gerardo Corzo, a 71-year-old pensioner.

Mr Perez Molina, 64, has said he is innocent of corruption and has vowed to face the legal process against him.

"The president is aware of the new scenario, which was not the most desirable but was very probable," his spokesman, Jorge Ortega, told The Associated Press.

"He has said he will be very respectful and submit himself to the rule of law."

Those voting against Mr Perez Molina included members of his own ruling party.

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