Peruvians march against corruption as head of judiciary resigns

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvians marched in the streets across the Andean country on Thursday, many carrying effigies of rats or vultures, to demand anti-corruption reforms to clean up the country’s institutions as the head of the judiciary resigned.

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Thousands took to the historic district of the capital Lima carrying signs that read “Kick them all out!” and chanting “Stop Corruption! National Shame!”

“It’s not just about dismissing the magistrates. We need a change, a reform of the entire judicial and political system,” said Jorge Rodriguez, a 31-year-old university student.

Peruvians took part in protests in cities including Cusco, Arequipa, Tacna, Iquitos on Thursday, media reported.

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

The audio was part of several wiretapped phone conversations of judges and their associates that were recorded by police as part of a criminal probe before being leaked to Peruvian media, the judge who authorized the wiretapping has said.

In the recordings, judges appear to be discussing plans to trade favors, help convicted criminals and secure jobs for friends.

One judge has been arrested and another has been barred from leaving Peru. All deny wrongdoing.

Duberli 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 Reuters’ requests for comment.

A corruption scandal dogged the previous administration of former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who stepped down four months ago in a graft scandal involving Brazilian builder Odebrecht. [ODBES.UL]

The judiciary crisis is an early political test for Vizcarra, who as Kuczynski’s former vice president vowed to fight corruption “at any cost” when he took office in March.

Vizcarra has promised to start a major reform of Peru’s justice system later this month and summoned Congress to an emergency legislative session on Friday in order to oust all members of the National Council of Magistrates, a 7-member panel that selects and oversees judges and prosecutors.

“The protests today in Peru have my full support,” Vizcarra said at a public event on Thursday. “We see a lot of outrage but also a message of hope because a society that becomes outraged is a society that can change.”

The crisis has battered trust in Peru’s institutions that had already been shaken by nearly two years of political intrigue surrounding Odebrecht, which admitted in late 2017 to having paid $29 million in bribes to secure lucrative construction contracts in Peru.

All four of Peru’s most recent presidents and the main opposition party are under investigation over Odebrecht. All deny wrongdoing.

Reporting By Reporting by Marco Aquino, Maria Cervantes and Reuters TV; editing by Grant McCool