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Opinion and Analysis: International | Law and Justice

A Few Facts about the Case of Judge Afiuni

Some of my friends in the US and internationally have had some concerns about recent events in Venezuela. From here in Venezuela, however, it seems there may be some misinformation, something common, of course, in mass media. One of these issues is the case of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, who was indicted for corruption and placed in detention for her illegal actions and abuse of her judicial power. Despite the fact that the US government and other international “human rights defenders” claim Venezuela has a terrible problem with judicial corruption, when authorities act against such malaise, then the government is accused of “cracking down on dissent” or being “authoritarian”.

Ironically, Judge Afiuni has claimed to be innocent and a political prisoner of President Chavez.

Afiuni was judging a financier named Eligio Cedeño who was involved in several corruption cases. He was initially charged with embezzlement of millions of dollars from banking institutions, essentially stealing the money from customers. Another charge against him was that he and an accomplice deceived CADIVI, our office of currency control, by ostensibly buying computers for almost US $30 million but bringing only empty containers to the country. The financier’s accomplice was arrested in Panama more than a year and half ago, and after being turned over to the authorities of Venezuela confessed the whole scheme. His lawyers delayed the trial with legal maneuvers, until about six months ago, when Judge Afiuni herself walked Mr. Cedeño out of the courtroom and escorted him with two other employees of her court to the internal parking lot for judges, where Cedeño boarded a motorcycle that was let into the lot by Afiuni’s instruction.

Then Afiuni returned to the courtroom to write the ruling with the decision to liberate Cedeño and afterwards she sat down and said loud and clear that she would sit where she was to wait for the suspension letter to arrive from her superiors.

The usual legal practice is that whenever an inmate is freed by ruling of a judge, he is taken back to prison where he waits for the arrival of the release order signed by the judge, something that usually happens in a matter of one or two hours. This was violated by Afiuni to be sure Cedeño would get away.

The judge, suspected of a felony, was suspended pending further investigation, and usually, in the corrupt system, nobody ever got sanctioned because in cases of bribery people released simply flee to another country to enjoy the money they’ve stolen stashed in some bank account of a family member, like to Miami, USA, for example, where Cedeño went. This explains the approach of Afiuni, but this time things worked out differently because she was arrested and held to trial for bribery.

MY REFLECTION

I have to say that I find it strange for people abroad concerned with justice and Venezuelan progress, to defend people like Judge Afiuni. I think she deserves to have the same treatment as any other citizen who is judged for similar reasons and is under custody because a serious and probable flight risk exists. Afiuni already has privileges, including originally being in a fairly comfortable cell with TV and a laptop (and Twitter), and enjoying visits at times no other inmate is allowed. Now she is in house arrest, where she enjoys all the comforts of home.

Since Afiuni knows the judicial position she is in, she keeps on playing the card of being a political prisoner, which of course she is not. We have no news of Afiuni being a political partisan of any group or defender of any ideology. Simply, Afiuni was a judge who received a payoff for the release of Cedeño and now is eager to part the country and enjoy the money.

If we had had a violent Revolution we could fight corruption with violent means, but since our Revolution follows a democratic and peaceful path, we can only put the felons in jail. To forego that option would be to forego law, on the one hand, and open the door to further violations on the other.

Fernando Vegas Torrealba is a Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice.