March 21, 2019 / 12:54 AM / a month ago

Guatemalan presidential candidate Aldana 'not scared' of arrest threat

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - A Guatemalan presidential candidate known for tackling high-profile corruption as attorney general said on Wednesday that she would return from neighboring El Salvador within days despite an arrest warrant.

FILE PHOTO: Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana participates in a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala, August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas/File Photo

A judge on Monday ordered the arrest of Thelma Aldana, a former attorney general who helped topple and imprison a former president on corruption charges and investigated current President Jimmy Morales, who has largely dismantled the country’s U.N.-backed anti-corruption investigative body known as CICIG.

The country’s electoral tribunal confirmed her candidacy in the June presidential election on Tuesday, shortly after news reports circulated of the order.

Aldana said if she wins, she would make government efficient and transparent as well as strengthen CICIG, adding that the accusations against her were politically motivated to undermine her bid for top office.

“No, I’m not scared. They’re the ones who are scared,” Aldana told Reuters in an interview in El Salvador’s capital, where she had previously scheduled activities. “When I go back to Guatemala... I’ll do it with complete calm, I’ll do it without a single problem.”

The arrest order includes charges of embezzlement, lying and tax fraud. Aldana said she plans to return to Guatemala on Thursday or Friday and had not been notified of the warrant. Under Guatemalan law, she holds immunity as a presidential candidate.

In January, Morales’ government said it was terminating CICIG, after already banning the group’s head from the country.

Aldana had worked with CICIG to investigate President Jimmy Morales for campaign financing violations. She and CICIG previously led the probe into former President Otto Perez Molina that triggered his impeachment and ousted him from office. He remains in custody on charges of involvement in a customs corruption ring.

If she wins, Aldana said she would ask the United Nations to formally expand the anti-corruption mandate of the CICIG, which was originally formed to investigate illegal security forces.

“Clandestine security bodies embedded in the state motivated the Guatemalan government 10 years ago to go to the United Nations ... but they’re still there,” she said.

Aldana added that she is against a law proposed by Morales’ party that would free military officials convicted of human rights crimes during the Central American country’s 36-year civil war, which has sparked criticism from international rights groups.

“Without a doubt, it’s a proposal that could generate impunity and obviously I’m not in favor of approving it,” she said.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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