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Jailing of judge provokes debate in Venezuela

•  Ethics     updated  2009/12/27 10:20


A Venezuelan judge is in jail on charges of corruption and abuse of power for freeing a high-profile banker, and an angry President Hugo Chavez has demanded she be kept in a cell for the maximum sentence — 30 years.

The president's condemnation of the judge as a "criminal" has drawn rebukes from his political opponents and also from some legal experts, who say the case is one more indication of the influence Chavez now wields over the judiciary.

The former army paratroop commander has gradually expanded his power during the past decade, gaining dominant control of congress and other institutions, and winning a vote ending term limits. Chavez denies trying to control the courts and says the legal system remains autonomous.

But the swift arrest of Judge Maria Afiuni last week over her ruling, combined with charges that appeared to come in lockstep with Chavez's angry reaction, have led some to call the case a prime example of the judiciary's lack of independence in Venezuela.


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