Caracas, December 22, 2009 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced yesterday that United States authorities have detained former banker Eligio Cedeño, who recently fled the country to avoid charges over embezzling millions of dollars.
The president said that Cedeño, the former president of Canarias and Bolivar Banks, was detained in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and that Venezuela will seek his extradition.
Cedeño, is in currently in the custody of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and was “detained because he left Venezuela illegally and was trying to illegally enter the United States,” Chavez said.
Chavez called on the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) to quickly prepare the necessary documents to send to the International Police (Interpol) and begin the extradition process.
Cedeño was charged in 2005 over his alleged involvement in falsely acquiring US$27 million from the State Foreign Exchange Administration Commission (Cadivi), ostensibly to import computer equipment. However, the equipment never entered the country and the funds were used for other purposes.
He was later arrested in 2007 and remanded in custody pending the outcome of his trial.
However, on 10 December Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni ordered Cedeño’s release on probation with a control order that prohibited him from leaving the country. Shortly after the banker disappeared, turning up days later in Miami.
Judge Afiuni has since been arrested and charged with corruption, abuse of authority and criminal conspiracy for allegedly plotting with Cedeño to assist in his escape.
Venezuela’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega Diaz said that the pre-trial hearing presided over by Afiuni was “irregular” and occurred without the presence of state prosecutors.
Cedeño’s lawyer Victor Cerda, initially denied on Monday that the banker was in the custody of U.S. immigration authorities then later claimed he willingly gave himself up and said he has filed a request for “political asylum.”
U.S. ICE spokesperson Nicole Navas confirmed that Cedeño was in custody and would remain there pending “immigration procedures” which allow him to present his case to a judge.
Navas said the banker “has the opportunity to present the facts of his case and qualify”, if approved by the judge, “for any immigration benefit.”
“The final decision is up to judge” who will decide whether Cedeño is eligible to qualify for immigration benefits (such as political asylum), or will be deported, Navas reiterated.
Jeffrey A. Neiman, U.S. assistant attorney for Florida, has weighed in on the issue saying “There are no criminal charges currently pending against him [Cedeño] anywhere in the District of South Florida.”
Venezuelan opposition groups claim that Cedeño is a victim of “political persecution,” and that the arrest of Afiuni violates the independence of the judicial system.
However, Chavez denied the claims and responded that the opposition is defending impunity and corruption.