Venezuelan Public Prosecution: Rogue Attorney Caved to International Pressure

Venezuela’s Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Diaz, has responded to a video released by Franklin Nieves- the former public prosecutor assigned to the case against jailed politician Leopoldo Lopez. Nieves left the country last week accusing the national public prosecution of mounting a “show trial” against Lopez. 

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas

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Franklin Nieves’ profile picture on Twitter, where he describes himself as a “lawyer, in love with life, a poet and crazy”. His account is currently blocked to non-confirmed followers (Twitter/Franklin Nieves)
Franklin Nieves’ profile picture on Twitter, where he describes himself as a “lawyer, in love with life, a poet and crazy”. His account is currently blocked to non-confirmed followers (Twitter/Franklin Nieves)
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Caracas, October 27th 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela’s Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Diaz, has responded to a video released by Franklin Nieves last week, in which the former public prosecutor accuses the national public prosecution of mounting a “show trial” against jailed right-wing politician Leopoldo Lopez.  

Lopez was found guilty of inciting public violence last month following a high profile trial in which Nieves acted as one of the lead prosecutors. A sentence of 13 years and nine months in prison was handed down to Lopez, who was at the forefront of the violent street mobilisations known as the “guarimbas” which sought to bring down the government in 2014 and led to 43 deaths.  

Last Friday, Nieves made headlines when he circulated a video revealing that he had left the country, accusing Venezuela’s public prosecution of having rigged the case against Lopez. 

“I decided to leave Venezuela with my family due to the immense pressure from the national executive and from my superiors to defend the false evidence with which they condemned Leopoldo Lopez,” he states. 

In the home-made video, in which a somewhat nervous Nieves appears in front of a white wall, the lawyer claims to have suffered sleep deprivation and depression during the trial, which lasted for a year and eight months, principally due to stalling tactics from Lopez’s legal team. 

However Nieves now states that the trial was “unfair” and calls on “fellow judges and prosecutors to tell the truth”. He reports to have been threatened with dismissal and jail time by his supervisors, before promising to reveal the “truth” behind “everything that happened… before, during and after the trial”. 

Nonetheless, the former public attorney appeared frugal with specific details on Monday when he was interviewed by NTN24 for the first time since his video hit the international news.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Nieves is currently in Miami with his family where they are officially seeking asylum. He has also asked for public forgiveness from Leopoldo Lopez and his family.

International Pressure 

Although no official reaction to Nieves’ claims emerged over the weekend, on Monday Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz moved to refute the video’s content in an exclusive interview with Venevision, citing several inconsistencies in Nieves’ declarations.  

In particular, Ortega pointed out that Nieves had played a leading role in the trial and had initially acted independently to solicit Lopez’s arrest warrant. She said the official, who is reported to have worked for the institute for over 20 years, had violated the oath required of all public attorneys to uphold the legal system and the country’s constitution. She also confirmed that he had been dismissed for abandoning his post. 

“He never denounced any irregularity throughout the investigation… an authentic and full act of conscience has to be carried out in the moment…during that year and eight months is when he had to come forward with this”.  

Ortega also dismissed the accusations surrounding “false evidence,” making reference to the fact that all evidence used in the case was available to the public- mostly tweets from Lopez’s twitter account or televised statements- which were analysed by semiotics experts.  

“Everything he says is very general, he doesn’t say anything concrete except something about false evidence, without even saying what that might be. It sounds like something out of a soap opera- “next will come the bit when I reveal all!”. I don’t understand why he didn’t explain everything straight away… Why didn’t he ask to be relieved of the case, or resign?”  

The head of Venezuela’s public prosecution also described the attorney’s sudden confession as “set up” and accused him of having succumbed to “international and domestic interests”. 

While international media sources such as the BBC have been quick to report that Nieves “fled” Venezuela, Ortega drew attention to the fact that he had left via the “main airport in the country”. 

“He couldn’t have left if he was being persecuted… and he then goes to a foreign context to denounce undue process, which he didn’t argue here… We have to see what is behind all this because there are evidently things which aren’t clear,” commented the attorney general. 

But Ortega isn’t the only person to call foul play. Several opposition figures and websites have ventured the thesis that the state prosecutor’s sudden public outburst could be attributed to the work of the US, and a question mark still hangs over how Nieves was able to leave the country for the US at short notice, without significant financial support or diplomatic guarantees.  

The staunch US based anti-government opposition activist, Patricia Andrade, from Venezuela Awareness, also bolstered speculation following the emergence of the video in a string of tweets. She accuses Nieves of having been “sponsored to go to the US”. 

“That fecal matter, Franklin Nieves, like all thieves, are cowards, they can’t take prison. They prefer the ca$$$$$$$$”.

“Who knows who sorted it out for him to come to the US, it makes me sick!”

For his part, US State Department spokesperson John Kirby expressed his concern Monday for the “pressures” on Nieves and urged Venezuela to “respect due process” and “release all political prisoners, including Leopoldo Lopez,” reports EFE.

The case against the wealthy, Harvard-educated Lopez was one of the most high profile legal cases in Venezuelan history, and the verdict was greeted by Venezuelan social movements as a triumph of justice over some of the most entrenched political and economic interests in the country. 

The attorneys presenting the case are alleged to have received threats to their personal security , including in tweets published by “AnonymusWar,” which called on its 104,000 followers to find out where Nieves lived.

In response to the controversial video, the political opposition has called for Lopez’s trial to be annulled and his sentence overturned. 

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