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Former Guatemala cabinet ministers arrested on corruption charges

Three former government ministers have been arrested in Guatemala on corruption charges. All served under former President Perez Molina, who is in jail facing charges of money laundering and conspiracy.

About 2,000 people gathered for a demonstration in the center of Guatemala City on Saturday to support the prosecutors and the crackdown on corruption.

Former Defense Ministers Ulises Anzuelo and Manuel Lopez Ambrosio and former Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla were arrested in Guatemala on Saturday and charged with corruption.

The announcement of their arrests was made at a joint news conference by Guatemala's attorney general, Thelma Aldana, and the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). They worked together to build a case against former President Perez Molina last year.

Chief prosecutor Thelma Aldana said the men arrested on Saturday were part of a group that used about $4.3 million (3.82 million euros) in state funds to buy gifts, including houses, boats and a helicopter, for Perez Molina. They face charges of money laundering and conspiracy.

Interior Minister Francisco Rivas said international arrest orders were also being sought for former Energy Minister Erick Archila and former Communications Minister Alejandro Sinibaldi.

Arriving at court offices, Lopez Bonilla said he did not know the reasons for his detention but expressed confidence in the country's judicial system.

"I believe that at the end of the day, things will be cleared up," he said. "I can't say more than that I am proud of the work I did."

The corruption investigations are being headed by the CICIG, which was set up in 2006 to help Guatemala reform its justice system and confront criminal gangs that had infiltrated the state.

Perez Molina's government was brought down

after a corruption scheme called "La Linea" or "The Line" was discovered involving the country's customs services.

The line referred to the hotline that businesses allegedly rang to clear their imports through customs at cut-price rates.

Deeper corruption

It now appears that The Line was just the tip of the iceberg. On June 2, CICIG and local officials arrested 25 people and issued warrants for a further 27 over the role of Perez Molina's Patriotic Party (PP) in acting as a front to exploit the Guatemalan state for personal enrichment.

According to CICIG, by 2008 the PP was accepting illegal campaign contributions as down-payments for favors if it ever took power. After Perez Molina and the PP won the 2011 presidential election, the CICIG charges that the government signed at least 450 contracts from which officials skimmed off more than $65 million.

The alleged conspirators come from all parts of Guatemalan society, according to the CICIG, and include the heads of large banks, the wife of a media magnate and a former football star.

A new government headed by a

former comedian Jimmy Morales

was sworn in last January. He ran on an anti-corruption platform.

jm/sms (EFE, Reuters, AP)

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