07 January 2019 at 08:54 BST

Sex, lies and Venezuela

Former top Venezuelan supreme court judge flees to US to denounce Nicolas Maduro, but government flags sexual harassment allegations.

Legislative palace (left) and supreme court (right) in downtown caracas casadaphoto/Shutterstock

Venezuela supreme court judge Christian Zerpa has fled to the US to protest over president Nicolás Maduro's second term in office, telling a Florida radio station that last year's election ‘was not free and competitive.’

Systematic manipulation accusation

Mr Zerpa accused President Maduro of systematically manipulating the affairs of the Supreme Court. Mr Zerpa said he did not criticise the election at the time because he wanted to ensure the safe exit of his family from Venezuela, explaining:‘I've decided to leave Venezuela to disavow the government of Nicolas Maduro.’  The defection comes as international and domestic pressure is mounting on Nicolas Maduro ahead of his second presidential term and follows a day after Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly called Maduro's election in a vote last May illegitimate and declared its intention to create a transitional body to prepare for democratic elections. A dozen Latin American countries and Canada declared they would not recognize Mr Maduro as president if he stays in office, calling on him to hand power to the National Assembly. The National Assembly was stripped of its powers in 2016 by the Supreme Court, dominated by Maduro loyalists, and replaced by a separate regime-created Constituent Assembly.

Sexual harassment allegations

A statement from the court said Mr Zerpa was fleeing allegations of sexual harassment. The supreme court confirmed he had fled and that it had opened an investigation into the judge over alleged sexual harassment of women in his office. It said the investigation was started in November 2018 but had only been made public now that he had defected. Mr Zerpa wrote the ruling providing the legal justification to strip congress of its powers after the opposition gained control of the body from the Socialists. He described the Supreme Court as ‘an appendage of the executive branch,’ claiming justices often received instructions from the presidential palace.

 
   
 
 
 

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