San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Guatemala

Guatemala presidential hopeful cries fraud

Recommended: Guatemala’s former President Pérez Molina to stand trial Dec. 21; until then, jail

GUATEMALA CITY – A millionaire businessman battling to reach the runoff in Guatemala’s turbulent presidential election alleged Thursday that the down-to-the-wire ballot count from the first round has been falsified by fraud.

“The signs of fraud are blatantly obvious,” said conservative candidate Manuel Baldizón, who four days after the vote is still locked in a neck-and-neck race for runner-up with former First Lady Sandra Torres of the social democratic party.

He alleged a “double counting system” was in place — a claim the country’s top election official said was baseless.

It was the latest twist in a race already rocked by months of protests against ex-President Otto Pérez Molina, his 11th-hour resignation and arrest on corruption charges, and the surprise first-round win of comedian and political outsider Jimmy Morales.

With 99.07 percent of the ballots counted from Sunday’s election, Morales had 23.85 percent of the vote, Torres 19.76 percent and Baldizón 19.65 percent, officials said. That means Morales, a conservative, will face either Torres or Baldizón in a runoff on Oct. 25. But with just 5,523 votes separating the latter two, the race remains too close to call, officials said.

See: In Guatemala’s capital, little enthusiasm for country’s next president

A ‘friend’ told him

Baldizón said his campaign has requested the results sheets from all 2,700 polling stations.

“A friend said to me, ‘They’re stealing the election from us,'” he said.

Electoral tribunal chief Julio Solorzano dismissed the allegation.

“If they believe there’s fraud, let them prove it,” he told journalists.

Election officials have said they will finish reviewing the ballot count Friday and announce the results at a press conference.

Former President Pérez Molina, meanwhile, appealed a judge’s ruling to jail him pending trial. His lawyer said jailing the retired general violated his rights and was unnecessary because he did not pose a flight risk.

Prosecutors and investigators from a U.N. commission tasked with fighting high-level graft in the Central American country accuse Pérez Molina of orchestrating a scheme in which businesses paid bribes to corrupt officials in exchange for illegal discounts on their customs duty.

The scheme collected $3.8 million in bribes between May 2014 and April 2015, including $800,000 each to Pérez Molina and jailed ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti, prosecutors allege.

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