Caracas, June 18, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com) – National Electoral Council (CNE) member Germán Yépez confirmed Tuesday that the CNE will respect a ruling by the government’s top anti-corruption watch dog, Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russian, prohibiting nearly 400 people who are being investigated corruption and misuse of public funds from running for public office in the upcoming regional elections in November.
Opposition groups claim the ban, which affects some pro-government politicians as well as many members of opposition parties, amounts to political persecution and are challenging the ruling in the Supreme Court.
However, the Comptroller General, himself a former leftwing student activist who was tortured by Venezuelan secret police in the 1960s, denied that the sanctions are politically motivated; rather he said they are aimed at “putting and end to impunity.”
“The Constitution establishes the equality of all citizens before the law; there is no constitutional disposition that establishes that those persons who carry out political activity are exempt from administrative sanctions from the Comptroller’s Office, or any other corresponding body of the Venezuelan State,” he explained.
Russian issued the ruling in March after a series of administrative investigations. However, lawyers representing the “inhabilitados” (those affected by the ruling) have argued that the Comptroller’s Office is an inappropriate body to make such a ruling and that it is unconstitutional, as it was not issued by a penal or civil court.
Russian responded that Article 65 of the Venezuelan Constitution states, “Those who have been condemned for crimes committed during the exercise of their functions, which affect the public patrimony, cannot stand for office in any popular election for a period of time, fixed by the law, until the completion of the sentence, and in accordance with the gravity of the crime,” and establishes that sanctions can be applied as a result of civil, penal or administrative investigations.
The Comptroller General, who has been subjected to personal attacks as a result of the ruling, added “They can do whatever they want; they can insult me like they have been doing, but they have never said that they are innocent. The important thing is that they prove that they are innocent, which they failed to do throughout the administrative investigation.”
Leopoldo López, the opposition Mayor of Chacao, who has been prohibited from standing as a candidate for Mayor of the Capital District due to a series of presumed administrative irregularities during his term as mayor as well as earlier charges relating to when he was a state employee, argued that the ban constituted a “political blockade.”
In an interview with Ernesto Villegas during the program “In Confidence” broadcast by state owned television station, VTV, López, who is challenging the injunction, declared he would not accept it if the Supreme Court ruled against him. “It is impossible,” he said.
One of the administrative irregularities for which López has been sanctioned occurred in 1998 when he, as an employee of Venezuela’s state owned oil company PDVSA and a member of the Primero Justicia Civil Association (ACPJ – a forerunner to the Primero Justicia political party), received a donation of 60 million bolivars from PDVSA in a cheque made out to the ACPJ and signed by his mother (also an employee of PDVSA at the time).
Under a cooperation agreement between PDVSA and the Inter-American Foundation, any donation by the state oil company to employees or functionaries, direct family members of employees, or foundations or entities related totally or partially to any of the said parties is strictly prohibited.
López, who was granted a right to self-defense during the Comptroller General’s investigation, admitted that the ACPJ had received the money but argued it did not constitute a crime. “Yes I worked in PDVSA as a recently graduated analyst, but we had a civil association and we presented a project the same as twenty other associations,” he said.
When questioned as to whether he thought this represented a conflict of interest, the opposition mayor refused to give a clear answer.
While he recognized that the Comptroller General’s Office can implement administrative sanctions for acts of corruption, López argued that the right to be elected could only be withdrawn as a result of a civil or criminal trial.
López, a signatory to the infamous “Carmona Decree” which dissolved all public powers, including the Supreme Court and the National Assembly during the short-lived April 2002 military coup against the Chavez government, is also being investigated for misuse of municipal resources in support of a group of rebel military officers who camped out in Altamira Plaza (in Chacao municipality) for more than a year after the coup, from November 2002, and who were linked to a string of bomb attacks and apparently politically motivated murders in Venezuela during 2003.
Yépez reiterated that the CNE would comply with the legality of the ruling based on article 105 of the Organic Law of the Comptroller General but said that the appropriate place to raise grievances is the Supreme Court.
Those who have been sanctioned “continue to maintain their right to vote, to organize themselves, to protest and to have their opinions,” he added.