Facing arrest warrant, candidate delays return to Guatemala

Guatemalan presidential candidate Thelma Aldana says she's not immediately returning to the country after a warrant was issued for her arrest

GUATEMALA CITY -- Presidential hopeful and former chief prosecutor Thelma Aldana will not immediately return to Guatemala after a warrant was issued for her arrest, she said in interviews with local media Thursday.

Aldana, who has been in neighboring El Salvador since Monday, said in brief comments to Prensa Libre and Guatevision that she is not coming back Thursday as previously planned. Aldana, 63, also said her team was evaluating the situation and she intends to return soon.

Calls from The Associated Press to Aldana were not answered.

A Guatemalan court said Tuesday that the warrant had been issued over alleged embezzlement related to anomalies in a contract during her time in office, but authorities have not given details.

That same day, Aldana was formally registered for the June election, which by law provides her immunity from criminal prosecution.

Her future is not entirely clear, however, given different interpretations of Guatemalan law. Some lawyers believe she already enjoys legal protection. But Leopoldo Guerra, director of candidate registry, said there is still a period when other parties can challenge her registration and immunity would take effect only once that is over.

As chief prosecutor, Aldana pressed a number of high-profile corruption investigations including cases against current President Jimmy Morales and some of his relatives and associates, as well as former President Otto Perez Molina, who remains in custody awaiting trial.

Both have denied any wrongdoing, and Morales has not been charged. Attempts to have his immunity lifted have fallen short of approval by the judiciary or congress.

Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart has said that as far as he's concerned, the arrest warrant is solid and police would carry it out if she returns to the country.

Rotman Perez, Aldana's legal adviser, said Thursday that she will not be back in Guatemala until her security is guaranteed.

"She is afraid for her safety, for her life," Perez said. "This has gone beyond the legal (arena). She does not rule out that someone could want to harm her."

Aldana's legal team has requested various judicial measures for her safety.

Aldana has accused political adversaries, including those she locked up for graft in her role as prosecutor, of being part of a "pact of the corrupt," which purportedly includes politicians, businesspeople, judges, prosecutors and private citizens implicated in corruption.

There was no immediate public comment from Morales.

The former prosecutor has a total of 18 complaints against her, most of them by the Foundation against Terrorism, an organization comprised of people who defend military figures convicted of human rights crimes and people accused of corruption.