By Doug G. Ware
Former Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina shakes hands with President Barack Obama during a meeting at the White House in 2014. Molina and his vice president, Roxana Baldetti, were forced to resign last year amid a corruption scandal. On Thursday, they were also charged with misappropriating millions in government funds. File Photo by Alex Wong/Pool/UPI | License Photo
GUATEMALA CITY, June 17 (UPI) -- The former president and vice president of Guatemala have been charged, along with 68 others, with embezzlement, accused of stealing millions in government funds.
Disgraced former President Otto Perez Molina and his deputy, Roxana Baldetti, face numerous criminal counts in a scheme that investigators say misappropriated public money after the pair took office in 2012.
Prosecutor Julio Prado said the officials illegally used the money, in various ways, for personal benefit.
"That money was used to buy goods and services for you and Baldetti, including real estate and luxury vehicles, as well as $4.3 million in gifts," he told Molina, 65, in court Thursday.
They face charges of embezzlement and money-laundering, officials said.
Prado said the president and vice president went to great lengths to conceal their financial crimes -- including even setting up bogus "shell" companies to hide the cash.
Baldetti, 54, prosecutors say, received nearly $40 million in unlawful bribes in awarding government contracts. They say during one trip to South Florida, she spent nearly $30,000 in taxpayers' money on clothing and shoes.
The pair's spending first attracted attention in 2013 when a Guatemalan newspaper published investigative reports into Baldetti's unexplained wealth, which the paper reported had allowed her to buy several multimillion-dollar homes and even a private helicopter.
Molina and Baldetti, who formed Guatemala's neoliberal Patriotic Party, have denied the accusations. Dozens of other government and banking executives have also been charged in the investigation.
The president and vice president were forced to resign last year over an unrelated scandal involving an alleged customs corruption ring, called La Linea, in which government officials accepted graft from importers in exchange for discounted or waived tariffs.
Baldetti resigned in May 2015, and Molina in September after the Guatemalan Congress voted 132-0 to strip him of immunity from prosecution. Vice President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, who replaced Baldetti, served as interim president for the remainder of Molina's term, which ended in January.