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Guatemala’s Jailed Ex-President Claims He Turned Down a Huge Bribe From 'El Chapo'

Otto Perez Molina says he helped arrest Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in Guatemala in 1993, and that he turned down a bribe from the drug lord “because it went against my principles."
Imagen por Esteban Biba/EPA

Fighting graft accusations, Guatemala's former president Otto Pérez Molina said on Friday he could have made "10 or 15 times" the money he is accused of stealing if he had taken bribes offered by powerful Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

The ex-president's colorful denial came just two days before Guatemala is scheduled to elect a new leader. Vice President Alejandro Maldonado is now serving out the remainder of Pérez Molina's term, which ends January 14.

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Businessman Manuel Baldizón, an ally of Pérez Molina's despite losing to the disgraced president in 2011, leads a field that also includes a comedian and a former first lady. None of the three are expected to win the more than 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff election in October.

Pérez Molina resigned as president on Thursday amid a corruption scandal that sparked widespread protests and upended his government. A judge ordered him to remain in jail until his hearing resumes on Tuesday.

Related: Guatemala's Former President Is Jailed as Protesters Oppose Weekend Election

Returning to court for his second day of hearings, Pérez Molina said Guzman tried to buy him off shortly after the drug kingpin was captured in Guatemala in 1993. Guzman spent almost a decade in a high-security prison near the Mexican city of Guadalajara before bribing guards to let him escape in 2001.

Pérez Molina, a 64-year-old retired army general, said he led the operation that resulted in Guzman's arrest over 20 years ago.

"The first thing [Guzman] did was try and negotiate," Pérez Molina told the judge. "The [bribe] offer we got after his capture is perhaps 10 or 15 times the amount that you're accusing me of here, and I didn't do it because it went against my principles."

Prosecutors have accused Pérez Molina of stealing $3.7 million in a customs fraud scheme.

Guzman is one of the world's top crime bosses, running the Sinaloa Cartel, which has smuggled billions of dollars worth of cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine into the US and around the globe.

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After eluding capture for 13 years, Guzman was arrested in February 2014 in his home state of Sinaloa. He was behind bars for just over a year before breaking free from his maximum-security lockup in July through a tunnel built right into the floor of his cell.

VICE News visited that tunnel in July. From the shower stall in Guzman's cell, it plunged 62 feet into the ground, where it connected to a passageway that was nearly a mile long and equipped electricity, a ventilation system, and a modified motorcycle mounted on a metal railing.

Related: We Visited the End of the Tunnel Where 'El Chapo' Made His Brazen Jailbreak

Pérez Molina has not yet been formally charged, and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors allege he was involved in a multimillion-dollar customs scam dubbed "La Linea" ("The Line"), referring to a phone hotline used by importers to avoid paying customs duties in exchange for bribes.

Pérez Molina faces likely charges of criminal association, taking bribes, and customs fraud, prosecutors have said. He is also being investigated for money laundering.

He was elected in late 2011 on a ticket to fight crime and corruption. Under Guatemala's constitution, he was not allowed to seek re-election in Sunday's presidential vote.

The judge hearing Pérez Molina's case must now decide whether there is enough evidence to charge Pérez Molina, and if so, whether he should await trial in jail.

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews

Reuters contributed to this report.