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Guatemala Congress approves judge linked to graft case for top court

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By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALACITY -Lawmakers on Monday ratified the appointment of a judge linked to a judicial corruption probe to sit on Guatemala’s top court, a few days before a visit by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, whose government has urged the country to fight graft.

Nester Vasquez’s ratification as one of five Constitutional Court justices comes after an autonomous anti-corruption prosecutor alleged in February that his prior appointment to a lower court was tainted by illicit influence-peddling.

Vasquez has not replied to repeated requests for comment on allegations made by Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor Against Impunity that his 2014 election to the Supreme Court of Justice was the result of illegal lobbying of officials and lawmakers.

The approval of Vasquez’s investiture by Congress grants him immunity from prosecution. He did not take part in the session and is due to be sworn in personally in the days to come.

The court’s justices must have substitutes. Vasquez’s substitute, Claudia Paniagua, a lawyer who has defended officials accused of corruption, was also ratified by Congress.

Last month Congress refused to appoint as head of the court Gloria Porras, a judge backed by the United States who is famous for battling corruption. Congress argued there were outstanding legal challenges against Porras, and her case is still pending.

Questioned by Reuters about U.S. concerns over how lawmakers are filling the court, the president of Congress, Allan Rodriguez, said the body respected the United States’ opinion but was carrying out its business in accordance with the law.

Washington has urged a group of Central American countries, including Guatemala, which are the point of departure for many undocumented migrants to the United States, to root out corruption in return for aid to try to stem the flow of people.

Harris is due to visit Guatemala next week.

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