July 19, 2018 / 6:14 PM / 2 years ago

Head of Peru's judiciary resigns as crisis grips justice system

LIMA (Reuters) - The president of Peru’s judiciary, Duberli Rodriguez, tendered his resignation on Thursday as an influence-peddling scandal has shaken the country’s justice system.

People walk in front of the Palace of Justice in Lima, Peru July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

The scandal broke nearly two weeks ago when local investigative news website IDL-Reporteros started publishing audio recordings of phone conversations in which judges appear to be discussing plans to trade favors, help convicted criminals and secure jobs for friends.

Rodriguez, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, quit his posts as the head of the Supreme Court and the president of the judiciary “because of the institutional crisis that the judiciary is going through,” according to his resignation letter that the judiciary posted on Twitter.

Rodriguez did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One of his advisers was heard in one of the audio recordings talking with a judge accused of belonging to a criminal organization. IDL-Reporteros published the recording and identified the advisor, who later apologized in an interview on local broadcaster RPP.

Earlier on Thursday, Orlando Velasquez, the head of the National Council of Magistrates, which appoints and oversees judges and prosecutors, stepped down, together with two others on the seven-member panel, amid calls for their resignations.

Velasquez denied any wrongdoing in a news conference on Thursday and said he and others had been unfairly criticized.

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra fired his justice minister, Salvador Heresi, on Friday after a local TV station released an audio of a phone conversation between the minister and a judge under investigation for influence peddling.

Heresi said on Twitter that there was nothing improper or illegal about the conversation but agreed to step down to allow the government to focus on a pending judicial reform.

The turmoil in the justice system is a fresh blow to trust in public institutions in Peru, after a graft scandal that broke in late 2017 led to the resignation of former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in March.

An Ipsos poll published on Sunday showed that a majority of Peruvians disapprove of the judiciary, Congress and the prime minister. Vizcarra’s approval rating slipped to a new low of 35 percent.

Peruvians took part in protests against corruption in the cities of Cusco, Tacna and Iquitos on Thursday, according to local media. A protest in the capital Lima was scheduled for later in the day.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Editing by Phil Berlowitz

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