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Venezuela Suspends 73 Judges

November 10, 1999

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Venezuelan authorities on Wednesday suspended 73 judges accused of corruption and incompetence, bringing to nearly 200 the number of judges removed from their posts in a crackdown on the nation’s judicial system.

Officials said 55 judges were suspended for failing to quickly process cases or committing other infractions, while 18 were suspended because of accusations such as taking bribes.

Another nine judges who were previously suspended were reinstated because officials decided the charges were either unfounded or merited disciplinary action that falls short of dismissal, said Manuel Quijada, the head of a special commission that suspended the judges.

The commission was created by a powerful Constitutional Assembly that is writing a new constitution for Venezuela and is dominated by backers of President Hugo Chavez. It also suspended another 122 judges in October. Venezuela has about 1,200 judges.

The oil-rich South American country’s judicial system is widely seen as being wracked with corruption.

Most people believed to have committed crimes are never charged, or else their cases get caught up in interminable red tape. In addition, more than half the nation’s 21,000 inmates have never been tried in court; suspects are jailed in Venezuela immediately even though they haven’t been tried. Payoffs to judges for favorable rulings are common.

Quijada said the long delays were to blame for a recent outbreak of violence in overcrowded jails, which already have long been considered among the most violent in the world.

Officials say they are investigating some 4,000 formal accusations of wrongdoing against judges. Many of the accusations had been gathering dust for as long as 15 years in the offices of the National Judges Council that is supposed to investigate them.

The commission said the suspensions do not automatically mean judges will be permanently barred from the bench. If subsequent investigations show they are innocent, they can resume their duties, Quijada said.

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