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Guatemala presidential candidate targeted over financing

FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2015 file photo, former first lady Sandra Torres, who's running for president with the National Unity of Hope party, shows her inked finger after voting during the presidential runoff election in Guatemala City. Guatemala’s attorney general’s office asked on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, that the immunity of Torrez, who is now an official presidential candidate and is therefore immune from prosecution, be lifted as she now stands accused of several electoral crimes during her 2015 presidential run. (AP Photo/Oliver de Ros, File)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Prosecutors in Guatemala sought Wednesday to have presidential candidate Sandra Torres Casanova’s immunity from prosecution withdrawn over a case of millions in alleged illicit campaign financing four years ago.

Juan Francisco Sandoval, head of the anti-impunity prosecutors’ office, or FECI, said Torres’ National Unity of Hope party is suspected of receiving about $2.5 million for the 2015 presidential election from businesses, contributions that were not reported to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

“The crimes which would be charged are illicit association, perjury, illicit and unreported electoral financing and tax fraud,” Sandoval said.

At a news conference, Torres laid blame on former chief prosecutor Thelma Aldana, who is planning her own presidential bid, and accused Sandoval of persecuting her at Aldana’s bidding.

“We see dark political intentions behind all this. Behind all this there is a person (Aldana), a criminal structure embedded in the FECI. It wants to harm me,” Torres said, adding that she would not allow the election to be “stolen.”

Torres ran in the 2015 race, which was won by current President Jimmy Morales. She was accredited Tuesday as a candidate for the election this June, a status that confers legal immunity from prosecution.

Sandoval also said four people were arrested, prosecutors were seeking to lift the immunity of four lawmakers from the same party and the party’s headquarters were being searched for documents related to the case.

Under Guatemalan law the request to withdraw Torres’ immunity will go to the Supreme Court for consideration.

Wednesday’s announcement by prosecutors arose from an investigation in partnership with a U.N.-sponsored anti-corruption commission that Morales has moved to sideline after it pressed investigations of him, some relatives and some associates. The president denies wrongdoing.

As chief prosecutor Aldana worked closely with the commission, known as CICIG, bringing graft cases that swept up dozens of public officials and businesspeople including then-President Otto Perez Molina. That record brought her acclaim at home and abroad and put her in position to launch a presidential bid this year.

National Unity of Hope is the party of former President Alvaro Colom, who was elected in 2008 and is currently free on bail while under investigation for purported embezzlement. He, too, denies wrongdoing.

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