Guatemala’s Otto Perez resigned as president and was jailed on Thursday while a judge weighs charging him in a corruption scandal that gutted his government and plunged the country into a political crisis days before a presidential election. In an emergency session, Congress approved Perez’s resignation after the retired general quit overnight. Former vice president Alejandro Maldonado was sworn in as president to fill out the remaining months of Perez’s term. Tens of thousands of protesters had flooded the streets of the capital and other cities in recent weeks, calling for Perez to step down over allegations he was involved in a customs racket. Celebrations over Perez’s resignation erupted in a plaza of the capital on Thursday, as the country prepared for presidential and congressional elections on Sunday.
“I am going to respect due process and face this,” Perez told reporters after a court hearing and before he was escorted away to jail because he was deemed a flight risk. “I believe this is completely inconsistent.” Perez, 64, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. The court hearing is set to continue on Friday.
In his resignation letter, submitted to Congress during the night, Perez said he would face the charges against him “with a clear conscience.” Prosecutors allege he was involved in a customs scam dubbed “La Linea” (“The Line”), referring to a phone hotline used by importers to avoid paying customs duties in exchange for bribes.