Merida, January 7, 2019 (venezuelanalysis.com) – One of Venezuela’s thirty-three Supreme Court magistrates has fled to the United States, despite being named on Washington’s sanctions list in 2018, adding to recent pressure against Caracas.
Christian Zerpa, who presided over the Electoral Council of Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ), appeared in Orlando, Florida with his wife and daughter Sunday, conceding an interview to right-wing news agency El Venezolano TV Miami (EVTV). Zerpa is a member of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), serving as a leading lawmaker in both the National Assembly and the PARLASUR. Since 1998, he actively campaigned for the election of both ex-President Chavez and current President Maduro.
The defection comes only days before President Maduro is due to be sworn in for his second term by the TSJ on January 10.
In explaining his decision, Zerpa assumed a firm anti-Maduro position, claiming he was not prepared to form part of the institution that swears in the president on the grounds that he deemed the May 20 elections not “competitive.”
“I believe (Maduro) does not deserve a second chance because the election he supposedly won was not free and competitive,” he told EVTV reporter Carla Angola.
When asked about the timing of his desertion, Zerpa only responded that he had delayed until now in order to “arouse less suspicion.”
During the interview, Zerpa took aim at Maduro’s government, denouncing alleged abuses of power and persecution. He went on to state that he plans on “collaborating with the US authorities,” without offering further details.
Since his interview, Zerpa has been formally dismissed by TSJ President Maikel Moreno, whom Zerpa described as a “criminal.”
In a TSJ statement, Moreno revealed that Zerpa, had been under investigation since November 23, 2018 for “sexual harassment, psychological violence, and lascivious acts in the workplace,” which had allegedly led to many female employees quitting. These accusations, the court claims, pushed Zerpa to abandon the country “to avoid justice and so that his crimes may remain unpunished.”
Appointed to the top court by the outgoing PSUV-majority National Assembly in 2015, Zerpa is most controversially known for authoring the 2016 TSJ ruling which declared the opposition-controlled National Assembly in contempt, temporarily nullifying its mandate over a series of functional irregularities deemed illegal.
Zerpa was alongside other magistrates and Maduro’s wife who were personally named as “individuals responsible for the worsening democratic situation in Venezuela” by the US and Canada last year. Under the sanctions, Zerpa and other officials are banned from entering the US and can have their assets frozen there.
He is the latest in a series of high-profile state officials facing criminal prosecution to have fled Venezuela, including former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz and ex-oil czar Rafael Ramirez, both of whom are under investigation as part of an anti-corruption drive.
US authorities have yet to provide any information regarding whether Zerpa will receive political asylum or the status of sanctions against him.
Edited by Lucas Koerner from Philadelphia.