Judge rejects petition to release Guatemala ex-president

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Jailed Guatemala ex-president Otto Perez at a court hearing in Guatemala City on May 12, 2020

Jailed Guatemala ex-president Otto Perez at a court hearing in Guatemala City on May 12, 2020 (AFP Photo/Johan ORDONEZ)

Guatemala City (AFP) - A judge on Tuesday rejected an appeal by jailed Guatemalan ex-president Otto Perez to be released into house arrest over fears of contracting the coronavirus.

The 69-year-old former general has been in custody since 2017 awaiting trial over a massive bribery scandal. He also has a heart condition.

Judge Miguel Angel Galvez threw out Perez's petition in a hearing, on the grounds that the former president is being held at an army hospital where there is none of the overcrowding present in other prison facilities.

Perez blasted the ruling, telling Guatemalan media he had not linked his request to overcrowding but to the fact that his age and heart condition made him more vulnerable to COVID-19.

"Among the vulnerable groups, they are talking about people over 60, and in addition, those with a heart condition, especially heart disease, which is exactly what I have," said Perez.

Perez has on several previous occasions tried to have his sentence commuted to house arrest.

He was charged in 2017 with racketeering, illicit enrichment and fraud as the mastermind of a multimillion-dollar scheme involving the Central American country's customs duty system. He has been in custody ever since.

The former president served from 2012 until he was forced to resign amid grassroots outrage in 2015.

Perez, who has also been implicated in other corruption cases, recently had surgery to remove gallstones.