GUATEMALA CITY – After being on the run for six months, one of the top leaders of a massive customs fraud scheme that brought down Guatemala’s president, vice president and dozens of others has finally turned himself in.
Juan Carlos Monzón, the ex-private secretary of Guatemala’s former Vice President Roxanna Baldetti, surrendered to Guatemalan authorities on Monday. In the process, he named former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina – currently in preventive prison – as the ringleader of the million-dollar fraud operation known as “La Línea.”
Juan Carlos Monzón’s statements follow similar comments made last week to investigators by another La Línea defendant, Salvador Estuardo González, alias “Eco,” that Pérez Molina and Baldetti were key players in the massive fraud operation, which hit headlines back in April.
During a hearing last week, González said Pérez Molina and Baldetti received half of the bribes collected from the operation, which allegedly diverted millions of dollars in customs duties into private hands.
“I recognize that Estuardo [González] told the truth during his declaration before the judge,” Monzón, dressed in a dark blue suit, gray shirt and light blue tie, told presiding Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez on Monday.
Monzón offered more information in exchange for government protection, saying he feared for his life and for his family.
“I’m the link that prosecutors need to close this investigation,” Monzón said, while denying he was La Línea’s mastermind as has been alleged by prosecutors and the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).
Under the administration of Pérez Molina, who resigned under widespread public pressure in September, and Baldetti, who stepped down last May, “nothing was done without the knowledge and approval of both of them,” Monzón said.
According to Gabriel Wer, a member of “Justicia Ya,” one of the groups that led collective anti-corruption protests for months, “The position of Otto Pérez and Roxanna Baldetti in this case is further complicated, because it’s being proven that the two highest leaders in the country ran the criminal structure.”
Pérez Molina and Baldetti currently are being held in preventive prison, but Baldetti was transferred in September to a military hospital, citing health problems.
Before Juan Carlos Monzón’s testimony, prosecutor Antonio Morales said the organized crime network “was operationally directed by you, Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, and directed by Otto Fernando Pérez Molina and Ingrid Roxana Baldetti Elías.”
Morales then played several recordings of telephone conversations entered as evidence against Monzón, who asked for “forgiveness from the Guatemalan pueblo,” as well as from his friends and family “for having participated in this structure, which was simply following orders that had been given to me.”
Monzón’s defense attorney is Francisco García Gudiel, who also defended Guatemala’s former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on genocide charges.
During testimony last week, González said, “Fifty percent of the bribes were for No. 1 and No. 2, … and I was the one who identified the president and vice president as 1 and 2 in order to distribute the money.”
Monzón disappeared the same day that the La Línea case was made public in April, while accompanying Baldetti on a trip to South Korea. He has not yet stated publicly if he had left the country or was in hiding in Guatemala.
He faces charges of illicit association, customs fraud and bribery.