Mérida, May 19th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – 18 months after he fled Venezuela to avoid criminal prosecution for what authorities claim were $27 million dollars in illegal currency transactions, a U.S. court granted political asylum to fugitive Venezuelan banker Eligio Cedeño.
The court’s decision comes over a year after the Venezuelan government submitted an official request to the U.S. State Department for Cedeño’s extradition and just months after the International Police (INTERPOL) froze an international arrest warrant issued for Cedeño.
“Today [18 May 2011] the immigration court in the United States granted me political asylum,” said Cedeño in a message released via the social networking site Twitter. On Thursday the Wall Street Journal confirmed the validity of Cedeño’s statement, citing Miami-based Lourdes Martinez-Esquivel as the U.S. immigration judge who approved the asylum request.
Cedeño, former president of two Venezuelan banks (Banco Canarias and Banco Bolívar), was first charged in 2005 over his alleged involvement in illegal financial transactions from within Venezuela’s State Foreign Exchange Administration Commission (CADIVI). He is accused of transferring some $27 million dollars abroad in a scheme that falsified the importation of computer equipment to Venezuela. Authorities say this equipment never existed.
Detained in 2007, Cedeño spent 34 months awaiting trial in a Caracas prison before Venezuelan judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni ordered his provisional release. Days later, Cedeño fled to the United States.
Judge Afiuni was later arrested for her involvement in Cedeño’s escape, and remains on house arrest to this day.
In an analysis published by Venezuela’s Correo del Orinoco International, journalist Edward Ellis affirms that “neither Cedeño nor Aﬁuni were outspoken political foes of the Chavez administration,” refuting opposition claims that both are victims of political persecution.
“While it is true that Cedeño had indeed been held beyond the stipulated time for pre-trial detentions,” writes Ellis, “it is also true that Aﬁuni’s rogue actions were made in violation of all judicial protocols and legal procedures. In fact, hundreds of trials in Venezuela fall victim to bureaucratic slow downs and judicial delays that prevent the timely delivery of justice in the country.”
According to a 22 April 2010 press release issued by Venezuela’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Venezuelan government’s extradition request for Cedeño is based on the following charges:
“[Eligio Cedeño] stands indicted in Venezuela and is wanted for allegedly stealing funds from account holders, fraudulently obtaining U.S. dollars from Venezuela’s foreign currency administrative agency and aggravated contraband. The charges against him are contained in Article 432 or the General Law on Banks and Other Financial Institutions, Article 7 of the Law on Foreign Exchange, Articles 104 and 105 of the Organic Law on Customs, and Article 84 of the Venezuelan Penal Code.”