GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has resigned in the face of a corruption scandal that has brought his government to the brink, a spokesman said early Thursday.
Spokesman Jorge Ortega said Perez Molina submitted his resignation at midnight Wednesday local time after a judge issued an order to detain him in the customs fraud case, which already has led to the jailing of his vice president, and the resignation of several cabinet ministers who withdrew their support for the president.
His resignation, the first by a Guatemalan president, is not effective until Congress accepts it and names a new president. They were to convene early Thursday morning to do so.
Protesters, business leaders and even Catholic church officials have called for Perez Molina to resign in recent weeks as the investigation of the customs fraud ring has grown wider and hit more officials. Perez Molina was steadfast in his plan to stay until the judge's unprecedented order, dealing the most serious blow yet to entrenched political corruption in the Central American country.
Ortega told reporters that in the end, Perez Molina submitted his resignation "to maintain the institution of the presidency and resolve on his own the legal proceedings leveled against him."
Perez Molina, 64, has maintained his innocence.
Vice President Alejandro Maldonado is constitutionally in line to assume the presidency. Maldonado, a conservative lawyer and former Constitutional Court judge, was chosen to replace former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who resigned May 8 due to the same scandal and is now jailed and facing charges. She too maintains her innocence.
Maldonado would likely remain in office until the winner of upcoming elections is inaugurated Jan. 14, 2016.
The order to detain Perez Molina is not for his arrest, rather to for him to declare before Judge Miguel Angel Galvea, who granted the request Wednesday from Attorney General Thelma Aldana.
The president will have to appear on accusations of illicit association, fraud and receiving bribe money.
No formal charges have been filed, though Aldana said there is a preliminary investigation under way into the president's possible involvement in the fraud ring.