Exiled jurists symbolically sentence Maduro to 18 years
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A panel of self-exiled Venezuelan judges holding a symbolic trial found President Nicolas Maduro guilty of corruption Wednesday and sentenced him to more than 18 years in prison.
Ousted chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega accused Maduro of accepting $35 million from the Brazilian construction giant at the center of Latin America’s biggest graft scandal in exchange for a leg up on lucrative public works contracts.
“I am asking for justice in the name of all Venezuelans,” she said in an impassioned closing statement to the jurists, some sitting in Colombia’s capital and some in Miami, deliberated for nearly two hours.
The judges and legal scholars who serve on the self-styled “Venezuelan Supreme Court in Exile” delivered a swift response: Guilty on charges of money laundering and corruption. They ordered that Maduro should be held for 18 years and three months at the Ramo Verde prison outside Caracas where some of their homeland’s highest-profile opposition leaders have been jailed.
Maduro was also ordered to pay a $25 million fine.
The court is composed of jurists who fled Venezuela after Maduro’s socialist government refused to recognize their appointment to the Supreme Court by the opposition-controlled National Assembly. The magistrates are still weighing charges from their offices in Bogota and Miami.
Though their actions are not recognized by Venezuelan authorities, the judges have pressed forward with holding symbolic trials like the one against Maduro in hopes of drawing international attention to Venezuela’s crisis.
“Justice! Justice!” several people cried out while watching the concluding remarks on Skype from the jurists sitting in Miami.
A video leaked last year showed an Odebrecht executive saying a Maduro aide asked for $50 million to finance the socialist leader’s 2013 campaign. The executive agreed to pay $35 million in exchange for assurance that if he won, Odebrecht projects would receive “priority.”
Maduro has denied the allegations.
During the trial, Ortega said a pervasive culture of corruption under Maduro has contributed to a steady decline in the lives of Venezuelans, who now struggle to eat three meals a day and are fleeing the nation in ever growing numbers.
She said Odebrecht was compensated for numerous public works projects that have not been completed.
“Those works just don’t exist, but the money was paid,” she said.
Ortega broke ties with Maduro’s administration last year after decrying a Supreme Court decision leaving the National Assembly powerless. She became one of Maduro’s most outspoken critics during a wave of deadly protests and fled to Colombia after being ousted from her post by the powerful, pro-government Constitutional Assembly.