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Guatemala congress picks new VP in wake of customs scandal

Lawmakers talk during the election of a new Vice President to replace Roxana Baldetti, who resigned on Friday, inside Congress in Guatemala City, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. The discussion was suspended untill Wednesday. The Former Vice President Baldetti resigned Friday, May 8, and gave up her immunity from possible prosecution after her former private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzon Rojas, was accused of being the ringleader of a scheme to defraud the state of millions of dollars by taking bribes in exchange for lower customs duties. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala’s congress selected a successor Thursday for the vice president who resigned over a widening customs corruption scandal that implicated her top aide.

Lawmakers picked Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, a constitutional judge who has also been a Cabinet minister, ambassador and political leader, from three nominees submitted by President Otto Perez Molina.

Maldonado replaces Roxana Baldetti, whose private secretary has been singled out by authorities as the alleged ringleader of the multimillion-dollar corruption scheme.

Baldetti denies any involvement but nonetheless stepped down last Friday after lawmakers began an investigation into whether to remove the immunity that comes with her office.

Maldonado was a late addition to Perez Molina’s shortlist after two failed attempts this week to present congress with a full three-person slate.

First, Labor Minister Carlos Contreras was scratched because of an apparent constitutional conflict that would have prevented him from assuming the office.

Then there were objections to the replacement nominee, Congressman Oliverio Garcia Rodas. Lawmakers feared that if Garcia were selected, his seat and its immunity privileges would then go to former Baldetti adviser Daniela Beltranena before prosecutors had a chance to determine whether Beltranena had any involvement in the corruption scandal. Garcia withdrew his name from consideration.

Several dozen people have been implicated in the scheme, in which officials allegedly took bribes to evade millions of dollars in customs duties.

Wiretap recordings in the case include multiple mentions of “the No. 2,” ”the lady” and “the R,” and prosecutors are investigating whether those were references to the former vice president.

The scandal sparked large demonstrations and calls from various sectors of society demanding that Baldetti resign.

Baldetti has been ordered not to leave the country.

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