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Guatemala vice president resigns amid corruption scandal

FILE - In this April 19, 2015 file photo, Guatemala's Vice President Roxana Baldetti listens to a question from journalists during a press conference at the presidential house in Guatemala City. President Otto Perez Molina announced Friday, May 8, 2015, that Baldetti will leave office. She is resigning amid a customs corruption scandal that has implicated her former private secretary. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala’s vice president resigned Friday amid a customs corruption scandal that implicated her former private secretary and opened her up to an investigation, President Otto Perez Molina announced.

With a sober expression on his face, Perez Molina said Roxana Baldetti had abandoned her offices in the presidential palace and he was informing congress. He called the decision “brave” and thanked her for her service.

“Her resignation is due to a personal decision with the only interest being to leave her office voluntarily, to submit herself to and cooperate with whatever investigations may be necessary and above all within the due process,” Perez Molina said.

Baldetti is the first Guatemalan vice president to step down due to a corruption case, although prosecutors have not implicated her in the scandal and she denies involvement.

Earlier in the day, she lost an appeal with the Constitutional Court seeking to overturn a ruling that gave congress a green light to begin an investigation into whether to strip her of the prosecutorial immunity that comes with office.

Recent days had seen rising calls for Baldetti’s resignation by protesters and even influential business leaders.

After the announcement, hundreds of people celebrated in the streets of the capital with cheers, applause, firecrackers and honking car horns.

“Roxana’s resignation is a victory for the people!” jubilant protesters chanted in central Constitution Square.

Perez Molina said he would send three names to congress for a new vice president to be picked from that shortlist.

Baldetti’s onetime aide, Juan Carlos Monzon Rojas, is alleged to have been the ringleader of a customs scheme in which officials defrauded the state of millions of dollars by taking bribes to lower customs duties. Monzon’s last known whereabouts were overseas, and he is currently being sought by authorities.

At least 50 private citizens and public servants, including Guatemala’s current and former tax chiefs, are suspects in the customs scandal. Prosecutors said 27 are in custody.

Earlier Friday, authorities arrested five lawyers who allegedly bribed a judge to free suspects jailed in connection with the case.

Prosecutors and a U.N. investigative commission said the attorneys paid Judge Marta Sierra Stalling to release the three suspects on bail.

Authorities revoked bail and were seeking to lift Sierra Stalling’s judicial immunity in order to launch an investigation.

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