Supreme Court Judge Suspended for Mismanagement of Funds

Comptroller General Russian announced that Supreme Court judge Velasquez Alvaray is being suspended from duty due to presumed irregularities in the purchase of a court building. The case now goes to the National Assembly to decide whether he will be dismissed.

Caracas, Venezuela, May 25, 2006—AVenezuelan Supreme Court Judge, Luis Velásquez Alvaray, was suspended yesterdayfor allegedly mismanaging funds while heading the Executive Directorate of thecountry’s judicial system (DEM).

The announcement was made by representatives of Venezuela’sfourth branch of government, known as the Moral Republican Council, whichconsists of Comptroller General Clodovaldo Russián, Attorney General IsaíasRodríguez, and Human rights Ombudsman Germán Mundaraín.

Velásquez’s alleged mismanagement of funds stems fromnegotiations between the DEM, represented by Velásquez,and a private company, AZ2000, regarding the “Lebrún Judicial City” a45,000 square foot, 4-story project where a variety of civil courts were tofunction for the state of Miranda. Lastyear, the price of the project was dropped from $25 million to $7 million. The difference, the DEM decided, would go towardthe renovation of the property and the purchase of goods and services. However,this decision was made without an open bidding process, as required by law, andthe contract was given directly to AZ2000.

The Venezuelan daily, ElUniversal, reported yesterday that the Attorney General explained that inmaking their decision, they took in to account “the overprice [of the property]and the violation of the law of bidding,’ legislation which had not beenrespected when the price of the land was reduced to $7 million, from theinitial established price of $25 million, utilizing the difference for thepurchase of goods, services and renovations that were susceptible to legalprovisions, although the property had been excepted from them.”

Comptroller General Russián assured that they will do whatis necessary to insure that the state doesn’t lose “one half cent,” and addedthat, “We are working so that a good part of the funds can be recuperated.”

Russián declared that the case will now be passed on to theAttorney General’s Office and the National Assembly to determine if the judgeis responsible for further civil, administrative, and criminal infractions, andif there were any others at fault.

Under the Supreme Court law, the National Assembly mustdecide whether the judge’s suspension is turned into a dismissal.

"Once the offense has been identified, and theproceedings of the Moral Republican Council have been received, the Presidentof the National Assembly shall convoke a plenary session within 10 working daysto hear the party concerned and resolve on removal," declared NationalAssembly President Nicolás Maduro, citing Article 12 of the Supreme Court Law.

Maduro further declared that the Moral Republican Councilcarried out the law in a “strict and impeccable” way, and that they will have afinal report on their decision ready in three days.

“We are going to continue to strictly follow the law inorder to give judge Velásquez Alvaray his right to defense and to listen to hisarguments,” Maduro continued.

El Universalreported that due to his status as a judge, Velásquez does have the benefit ofa pre-trial before any criminal indictment. However, if and when he is officially dismissed by the National Assemblyhe would be tried as a regular citizen.

Velásquez first came under suspicion in March the Ministerof Interior and Justice, Jesse Chacón,declared at the time, “As a consequence of all of these facts we have sent thecomplete information on to the Anti-corruption Commission of the MoralRepublican Council, so that they carry out an exhaustive investigation anddeclare if there exists a violation of the Venezuelan laws or not.”

Velásquez has vocally denied the charges and says that theyare politically motivated and are being orchestrated by Vice-President José VicenteRangel, Interior and Justice Minister Jesse Chacon, and National AssemblyPresident Nicolas Maduro because he refuses to their bidding. He went on toaccuse Rangel of urging him to release a drug trafficker, which he refused todo, and said that this group was part of a current that believes in “Chavismowithout Chavez.”

Ironically, during his tenure on the court and as headof the court system’s Executive Directorate,Velásquez fired dozens of Venezuelan judges for corruption. He resigned from his post on the ExecutiveDirectorate on March 6 of this year.