Guatemala's former Minister of Defense, Manuel Lopez Ambrosio, sits in a cage at the basement of the Supreme Court of Justice after being arrested for having links to a corruption scandal led by former president Otto Perez Molina, in Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 11, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez(reuters_tickers)
By Sofia Menchu
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala's attorney general on Saturday brought corruption charges against five former ministers who served in the government of Otto Perez, a former president impeached and arrested for suspected graft last year.
The five are accused of money laundering and unlawful association to buy gifts for Perez and ex-vice president Roxana Baldetti through an aide, said Ivan Velasquez, head of a local U.N.-backed anti-corruption body known as the CICIG.
The announcement was made in a joint news conference by Guatemala's attorney general, Thelma Aldana, and the CICIG, who worked together to build a case against Perez last year.
Police detained two of the five officials, ex-defence minister Manuel Lopez Ambrosio and former interior minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla on Saturday.
Alejandro Sinibaldi, who had the infrastructure job, former energy minister Erick Archila and Lopez Ambrosio's predecessor at defence, Ulises Anzuelo, are facing arrest.
Only Lopez Bonilla has so far responded to the charges, denying them as he was taken in handcuffs to a courthouse on Saturday.
Velasquez said the five had channelled some $4.5 million (£3.16 million) in cash to Baldetti's private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzon, to buy beach houses for Baldetti and Perez, as well as a helicopter and a boat for the former president, a retired general.
Investigators discovered the purchases after raiding Monzon's offices in April 2015. Monzon was arrested in October and subsequently confirmed the transactions, authorities said.
Velasquez said investigators suspect that the money delivered to Monzon for the gifts was illicit because the sums involved went far beyond the ministers' salaries or what they had stated in their asset declarations.
"As we see, the objective was to hide the origin and destination of the funds," Velasquez said, noting the gifts were likely made by the officials to protect their jobs.
Perez and Baldetti are in prison and on trial for a variety of corruption charges, including bribery. They have both denied any wrongdoing.
(Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)