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Venezuelan Opposition Legislator Loses Immunity Following Tax Fraud Charges

Mérida, 31st July 2013 ( – After a debate in the National Assembly yesterday, the president of the assembly, Diosdado Cabello, announced that the assembly had removed opposition legislator Richard Mardo’s parliamentary immunity.

Last week the Supreme Court gave the go ahead to a case against Mardo. He is being accused of tax fraud and money laundering. In February Cabello accused Mardo of receiving cheques totalling Bs 600,000 (US$95,000), but had only paid Bs 1,500 (US$238) in taxes in two years. Mardo is a member of the Justice First party and is expected to be the opposition’s mayoral candidate of Maracay in Aragua state.

After the decision, opposition leaders told the press that the decision was “unconstitutional”, because it had been made by a simple majority rather than with a two-thirds majority.

According to article 200 of the Venezuelan constitution, legislators have immunity in carrying out their functions, while they hold their position as legislator. The only authority that can charge legislators is the Supreme Court, with previous authorisation from the national assembly. Article 187 (20) states that “The temporarily separation of a legislator from his or her office, shall only be decided by a two-thirds vote of those present”.

However, according to the national assembly’s internal regulations, article 25, which refers to article 200 of the constitution, once the Supreme Court has requested the authorisation, the assembly will form a special commission which will have thirty days to put together a report that recommends or opposes the authorisation. The article doesn’t state, however, which sort of majority is needed to vote on the commission’s report and authorise or not, hence it is an absolute majority (half plus one vote) by default.  Two-thirds majorities are only used when specifically stated in the constitution (article 89 of the regulations).

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela, together with other parties that support the Bolivarian revolution, have a majority in the assembly, but not a two-thirds majority.

Miranda governor, former presidential candidate, and First Justice party leader, Henrique Capriles called for a demonstration for this Saturday, saying that the main reason for it is the Mardo case. “Mardo today shows us that this new leadership doesn’t scare off corruption,” he said on his Twitter account.

Later, Capriles also told press that, “Yesterday, legislators... stepped all over the constitution and the Supreme Court ruling. We call on our people to march on Saturday because it’s important to defend the future”.

Cabello said today that such a march “will be the march of corrupt people... so they can all defend each other”.

Capriles recently just returned from visiting Colombia, Peru, and Chile, where he met with authorities and presidents to build up support for his campaign to not recognise the 14 April presidential election outcomes because of supposed electoral fraud. Today he also called on his supporters to vote in the 8 December mayoral elections.

Published on Jul 31st 2013 at 8.21pm