Reuters International

Guatemala's former President Otto Perez Molina talks to reporters after a hearing at the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala City, Guatemala, March 28, 2016, on charges of conspiracy, customs fraud and bribery charges. REUTERS/Saul Martinez

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GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala's attorney general accused ex-president Otto Perez on Thursday of negotiating hundreds of bribes for public contracts, and ordered at least 50 people arrested for participating in the massive corruption scheme.

The latest accusation comes after a bribery scandal toppled Perez's government, forcing his resignation and landing him in jail last fall. The latest accusations also sweep in other politicians and prominent business leaders.

Authorities arrested 23 people during the day and sent seven international orders for capture, including for Alba Lorenzana, the wife of Mexican media magnate Angel Gonzalez and a partner in his companies.

"We are facing a criminal structure that had co-opted power ... with the ultimate goal of illegal enrichment," Attorney General Thelma Aldana said at a news conference, adding that the organisation was led by Perez and his former vice president Roxana Baldetti.

According to the investigation, officials and businessmen started using a "mechanism" during the 2011 elections to hide bribes, pulling in at least $130 million. The scheme continued until the resignation of Perez and Baldetti, who are both in jail pending trial for customs fraud.

Lawyers for Perez and Baldetti were not immediately available for comment on the newest accusations, which include charges for illicit campaign finance, illegal association, passive bribery and money laundering.

Perez has denied any involvement in the customs fraud.

The attorney general's office and the Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a U.N.-backed body that was key in Perez's fall, said Perez and Baldetti took at least 60 percent of the funds for themselves, to live a life of luxury.

The investigation is looking at 450 cases of illicit contracts, involving bankers, officials, and businessmen such as the legal representative of Sigma, Guatemala's most important construction firm, as well as people who acted as front men to hide the source of funds.

"The conditions under which one works (as an official) have their risks and today I have to confront this situation and confront my joint responsibility," said Rudy Gallardo, director of the National Register, which processes personal identification cards, and one of those detained in the case.

This is the third pending case for Perez and the fourth for Baldetti, who are both also accused of arranging bribes with a Spanish firm in exchange for a port concession.

(This version of the story has been refiled to fix dateline to Guatemala City from Mexico City)

(Reporting by Sofía Menchú; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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