otto perez
Guatemala's President Otto Pérez Molina attends a hearing at the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala City, September 3, 2015. Pérez resigned last week and turned himself in after the nation’s attorney general charged him with involvement in a corruption scandal. The graft scandal, allegedly involving bribes in exchange for side-stepping tariffs, slowly gutted the administration over a period of months as more and higher-officials were implicated. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

Guatemala’s former president is behind bars on corruption allegations, while Mexico’s most notorious cartel leader is on the loose. Their stories collided in a Guatemalan courtroom on Tuesday as former president Otto Pérez Molina defended himself against fraud, bribery and other charges. To illustrate his incorruptibility, the former general retold a story about coming head-head with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán-Loera when the alleged Sinaloa Cartel was arrested in Guatemala in 1993.

"I want to mention that in the 1990s I directed an operation that led to the capture of the most wanted narcotrafficker in the work, known as Chapo Guzmán,” said Pérez.

Guatemalan officials handed El Chapo over to Mexican police after Pérez’s team arrested the narcotrafficker, but he soon escaped. Rearrested in February of 2014, the cartel leader escaped again in July of 2015. His whereabouts are unknown.

“You can imagine what he did when we caught him [in 1993]: the first thing he did was negotiate,” said Pérez, who said that he rejected a $1.5 million dollar bribe that Guzmán allegedly offered for his freedom.

Pérez’s former vice-president and her secretary are accused of leading a graft scandal, a crime ring that gave companies breaks on import tariffs in exchange for bribes. According to investigators, a total of $3,700,000 was collected this way. The imprisoned former president is charged with receiving at least $800,000 of that money.

Peanuts, Pérez argues, compared to other bribes that he had turned down in the past, such as El Chapo's offer of $1,500,000. Why, he asked the judge, would he risk his reputation and long career of public service over a few hundred thousand dollars?

Hole In The "El Chapo" Defense

However, a Mexican lawyer representing the victim of an unrelated homicide says that evidence suggests Pérez did accept El Chapo’s $1.5 million bribe. In this version of events, Pérez pocketed the $1.5 million bribe but the betrayed El Chapo, according to José Antonio Ortega.

“Guzmán was beaten, tortured; that's how he was handed over to the Mexican authorities," Ortega told Guatevision, a public TV station.

Ortega says that he discovered documents showing Otto Pérez’s name alongside the bribe amount while investigating the murder of Juan Jesús Posadas then-archbishop of Guadalajara, Mexico. That Catholic leader was killed in 1993 by unknown gunman.

Reports indicate that the they were soldiers of rivals of the Sinaloa Cartel who mistook the Archbishop for Guzmán. Others, including Ortega, say that it was a targeted assassination .

The case has never been solved, though evidence of a police coverup was found when it was reopened in the early 2000s. Investigators in that case reportedly received death threats.

Ortega’s allegations still need to be verified. If the documents that he cites are deemed legitimate, they could deal a major blow to Pérez’s “El Chapo” defense.

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