Thursday, October 29, 2020

US places a $5 million bounty on Venezuela chief justice

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The Trump administration on Tuesday increased the pressure on embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Maikel Jose Moreno Perez, Venezuela’s chief justice of the Supreme Court, accusing him of receiving bribes to influence rulings in criminal and civil cases.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the award on Tuesday, accusing Perez of “significant corruption” for receiving money and property in exchange for judicial actions, such as ordering specific defendants to be released or particular cases to be dismissed, in more than 20 judicial proceedings.

Pompeo said he also designated Perez, whom he described as “a Maduro crony,” and his wife under an act that targets foreign corruption and human rights violations, barring them entry into the United States.

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Perez, 54, was charged by criminal complaint in March, along with Maduro and 13 other current and former Venezuelan officials, on a slew of money laundering conspiracy charges for receiving millions of dollars to fix court cases.

According to the complaint, Perez authorized the seizure of a General Motors auto plant worth an estimated $100 million in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds, among participating in other alleged corruption schemes.

In May 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned him as a Specially Designated National under a 2015 executive order signed by former President Barack Obama that blocks U.S. property and assets of those deemed contributing to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

The Treasury said then that the designation was imposed for rulings that stripped powers from the National Assembly, one of the last remaining democratic institutions in the socialist nation.

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Venezuela rejected the moves on Tuesday, describing them as “illegal and coercive actions” of the Trump administration targeting the Venezuelan people and its constitutional institution.

In a statement, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry derided the reward offer as being done in “the style of cowboys from the wild and far West,” stating it will add this latest transgression to its list it has submitted to the International Criminal Court.

“Venezuela denounces to the international community the obsessive persecution of the U.S. ruling elite against the Venezuelan government and people, fabricated on false premises and accusations,” the ministry said, adding that Americans deserve a government that stands “for respecting international law, not for violating it.”

The reward offer is the latest move by the Trump administration to unseat Maduro in its push to establish a democratic transition in the country since his 2018 re-election was deemed illegitimate early last year by the National Assembly.

Since then, a coalition of more than 50 countries led by the United States has backed National Assembly head Juan Guiado’s claim to the interim presidency until new elections can be held.

However, U.S. officials have said Maduro has managed to hold on to power with the help of Cuba, Russia and China.

Pompeo said Tuesday’s public designation Perez and his wife, as well as the reward offer of $5 million, is to send a message that the United States will continue its campaign against the Maduro regime.

“The United States continues to stand with the people of Venezuela in their fight against corruption and for the peaceful restoration of democracy,” he said.

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