Caracas December 22, 2009 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s top anti-corruption watchdog, Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russián, announced yesterday that 153 Venezuelan’s have been disqualified from running for public office for misuse of public funds.
Among those barred are three former governors, Eduardo Manuitt of Guárico state, Arnaldo Arocha of Miranda state, and Bernabé Gutiérrez from Amazonas state.
Manuitt, a former Chavez ally, can not run for office in any electoral process or hold any post in public administration until 2024, after the Comptroller disqualified him for 15 years, the maximum period provided for under the law.
Arocha, who held the governorship of Miranda from 1989-1995, was also disqualified for 15 years.
The former governor of Amazonas and a leader of the opposition party Democratic Action, Bernabe Gutierrez, received the smallest penalty of the former governors of three years.
The issue of electoral disqualification sparked a controversy last year when Leopoldo López, the former mayor of Chacao, together with 272 others, was prohibited from running in the November 2008 state and municipal elections.
Lopez was sanctioned for administrative irregularities when he was an employee of Venezuela’s state owned oil company PDVSA in 1998 and a member of the Primero Justicia Civil Association (ACPJ – a forerunner to the Primero Justicia political party).
During an administrative investigation Lopez admitted that he received a donation equivalent to US$106,000 from PDVSA in a cheque made out to the ACPJ and signed by his mother (also an employee of PDVSA at the time), but did not say whether he thought that represented a conflict of interest.
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.
The disqualifications under Article 105 of the Organic Law of the Comptroller have been criticised by the opposition, who argue this article violates both constitutional due process guarantees and the right to run for political office.
Lopez argued that according to Article 42 of the constitution the right to be elected could only be withdrawn as a result of a civil or criminal trial.
However in a series of rulings on August 6-7, 2008, the Supreme Court ratified the sanctions as constitutional saying defendants are guaranteed full due process rights in the administrative investigation process.
The Supreme Court also ruled that Article 42 only applies political rights lost in the context of loss of citizenship and not in other circumstances. Those sanctioned continue to maintain their right to vote, to protest and to organize themselves politically.
The Venezuelan government has pointed out that most countries have legal procedures that prohibit those under investigation for misuse or embezzlement of public funds from standing for office and deny opposition claims of “political persecution”.
A Venezuelan newspaper, Ultimas Noticias has revealed that the majority of those sanctioned were not opposition supporters.