Thu, Dec 15, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Venezuela extends judge’s house arrest

AP, CARACAS

Venezuelan authorities on Tuesday extended the house arrest of a judge whose case has been strongly criticized by human rights groups.

Judge Ali Fabricio Paredes ruled that his colleague, Maria Lourdes Afiuni, must remain under house arrest for two more years, saying she has intentionally delayed her own trial by repeatedly refusing to enter a courtroom.

Afiuni faces corruption charges that were filed after she released a banker from jail while he awaited trial on accusations of violating foreign-exchange controls.

Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega announced last week that she would ask a judge to -extend Afiuni’s house arrest.

Afiuni’s relatives argued that the order keeping her under house arrest should be rescinded.

Government opponents, joined by some human rights groups, say Afiuni’s case shows Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s influence over the judicial system — a claim that Chavez denies.

One of Afiuni’s lawyers, Jose Amalio Graterol, told Union Radio that the judge’s legal representatives would appeal the ruling.

“Today’s decision constitutes another blow to the rule of law in our country,” Graterol said.

Afiuni’s brother, Nelson Afiuni, said the judge’s relatives did not expect a favorable outcome of the appeal.

“We don’t expect much because this country’s justice system is biased,” he said during a telephone interview. “Most prosecutors and judges respond to the interests of the government, and it’s clear the government wants my sister to remain isolated.”

The judge infuriated Chavez when she freed the banker from prison where he was awaiting trial on charges of flouting the country’s currency-exchange controls. Cedeno fled the country shortly following his release.

Meanwhile, Chavez is launching new social programs, including pension increases and a US$100-a-month cash payment for needy children as he prepares for his re-election bid next year.

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