(Adds total arrests 15, investigator’s quote)
By Sofia Menchu
GUATEMALA CITY, May 20 (Reuters) - Guatemala’s central bank governor was arrested on Wednesday in a bribery probe that also targeted a former aide of President Otto Perez, who has faced mounting pressure since his vice president quit two weeks ago over a separate graft scandal.
The Guatemalan attorney general’s office said it had arrested central bank chief Julio Suarez, and issued an arrest warrant for Juan de Dios Rodriguez, Perez’s former personal secretary and head of the Guatemalan Social Security Institute.
The office said Suarez, who has a seat on the institute’s board, had been arrested along with 14 others over a $14.5 million medical services contract awarded by the institute. The charges include fraud, influence trafficking and charging illegal commission, prosecutors said.
Ivan Velasquez of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a United Nations-backed group working with prosecutor’s on the case, said investigations that began last year found that the contract was rigged in favor of a pharmaceutical company.
“We have very coherent evidence to show that the members of the tendering board took illegal steps,” Velasquez said.
According to the investigators, taped phone conversations showed that the company, identified by the prosecutor’s office as the Guatemalan unit of Mexico’s Pisa, paid bribes to officials from the institute to win a dialysis contract.
A Pisa spokesman declined to comment.
The central bank said in a statement that Suarez had its full support and that it would continue to operate as normal. The Social Security Institute was not available to comment.
It was unclear if the institute’s head, Rodriguez, had already been arrested. The prosecutor’s office said Rodriguez had been hospitalized since Tuesday night for undisclosed reasons and the building was put under police control.
President Perez said he welcomed the investigation.
“Nobody is above the law,” Perez said in a televised address. “I’m the first one to regret that these situations are occurring and the first to demand that justice is served.”
On May 8, vice president Roxana Baldetti stepped down after accusations that she had been linked to a ring accused of taking bribes to avoid customs taxes. The scandals have surfaced ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September. Perez is barred by Guatemalan law from seeking re-election. (Additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter, Enrique Pretel; Editing by Dave Graham and Grant McCool)