Venezuela leader brands ousted chief prosecutor a fugitive
By JOSHUA GOODMAN
Aug. 22, 2017
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Nicolas Maduro branded Venezuela's ousted chief prosecutor a fugitive from justice Tuesday as she flew to Brazil promising to "show the world" proof that he is involved in serious acts of corruption.
Maduro said Luisa Ortega Diaz had been hiding behind a "Chavista mask," pledging allegiance to the socialist government installed by the late President Hugo Chavez while working with Washington to damage his administration.
Ortega was removed by a new, pro-government constitutional assembly in early August and arrived with her lawmaker husband in Colombia on Friday, a day after the Supreme Court ordered the legislator's arrest.
"Tell me who you walk with and I will tell you who you are," Maduro told reporters, reciting a popular proverb.
"You keep company with the Colombian oligarchy, Luisa Marvelia," he added, invoking her middle name. "You keep the company of the coup mongering Brazilians, Luisa Marvelia."
The declaration from Maduro came shortly after Ortega announced that she was traveling to Brazil to participate in a meeting of the Mercosur group at which she plans to present incriminating evidence against Venezuela's president.
The South American trade bloc suspended Venezuela in early August for failing to uphold democratic norms.
Ortega did not present any details, but on Friday she told a group of Latin American prosecutors that Maduro removed her in order to halt a probe linking him and his inner circle to nearly $100 million in bribes from the huge Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.
The company last year admitted in a plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to paying bribes to officials throughout Latin America in exchange for lucrative contracts.
"This event will allow me to show the world the proof that incriminates Nicolas Maduro and his associates in grave acts of corruption," she said in a statement released to the Venezuelan opposition news site La Patilla.
Ortega and husband, German Ferrer, have been in the cross-hairs of Maduro's government since breaking ranks in recent months with his administration. Ortega and Ferrer are both longtime socialist party loyalists who have been outspoken in criticizing Maduro's call for the constitutional assembly to rewrite Venezuela's charter.
Removing Ortega from her post was one of the new assembly's first acts.
The new chief prosecutor is accusing Ferrer of being part of a $6 million extortion rink that operated under Ortega's watch.
Maduro said Tuesday that he is alerting international police organizations that Ortega and Ferrer are both fugitives from justice.
The couple went into hiding after state security forces raided their home last week. Maduro said authorities found vast "riches" inside that he called "an incredible thing."
"I never imagined such a betrayal as this," he said.
Ortega and Ferrer arrived in Colombia on Friday aboard a private plane from Aruba, adding to a growing list of dissident lawmakers and officials who have fled Venezuela in recent months. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Ortega is under Colombian protection and she will be granted political asylum if requested.
Chile announced Tuesday that it would grant political asylum to five Venezuelans who have been threatened by the government-stacked Supreme Court after being named to the court by the opposition-controlled congress.
The judges were among 33 appointed by the National Assembly in late July to replace current Supreme Court magistrates. The high court accused them of illegally usurping power and warned they would face consequences. At least one magistrate was jailed after participating in a ceremony announcing the new appointments.
Associated Press writer Christine Armario in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.