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Exiled Prosecutor Urges Sanctions on Venezuela

Former Venezuelan prosecutor Franklin Nieves speaks with Reuters in an interview in Miami, Florida, Oct. 29, 2015.

Venezuela's socialist officials consider him a traitor while the government's opponents say his long service to the regime should make him ineligible for U.S. political asylum.

Franklin Nieves, the former Venezuelan prosecutor who fled last week to Miami and denounced his own role rigging evidence against opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, says he deeply regrets his actions and wants to make amends by helping U.S. authorities expose how Venezuela's judiciary is controlled by President Nicolas Maduro's government.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Nieves said he supports calls for the Obama administration to sanction the other officials who helped convict Lopez on charges of inciting violence during last year's anti-government protests. Lopez was sentenced to almost 14 years in prison.

Before fleeing Venezuela, Nieves was among five people a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers said should be sanctioned.

In several interviews and a video posted to the Internet, Nieves has detailed how his superiors and high-level officials allegedly ordered him to arrest Lopez and three others even before they staged the first anti-government demonstration in February 2014 that kicked off weeks of deadly unrest.

When he protested that no ground for arrest existed, he said, Brigadier General Manuel Bernal, then head of intelligence police, told him the instructions came from Maduro.

The Venezuelan president has not commented on the allegation, and Nieves hasn't presented evidence to back the claim.

No asylum, critics say

Nieves said he left Venezuela after realizing the damage he'd caused to Lopez's family, but opponents are urging the U.S. to reject his request for protection.

"Asylum is reserved for victims of political persecution; Nieves is a persecutor with a criminal record stretching more than a decade,'' said Patricia Andrade, head of the Venezuela Awareness Foundation, a Miami-based exile group.

Nieves said he never falsified evidence before the Lopez trial and denied sympathizing with the government.

"They gave me this crazy job because I was one of the most veteran prosecutors,'' he said.

Chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega has denied pressuring Nieves and said the former star prosecutor never raised objections with higher-ups during the 18-month trial. Diosdado Cabello, head of the National Assembly, has accused Nieves of taking $850,000 from government opponents to slander the revolution started by the late Hugo Chavez — a charge the prosecutor dismisses as an attempt to discredit him.

Nieves has been staying in an undisclosed location since arriving in Miami with his family, stepping out only for meals and the occasional interview. He said that even if the U.S. grants him asylum, he hopes he will someday be able to return home.

"I don't want to stay in the United States,'' he said. "Once the situation in Venezuela changes, all of us will leave for Venezuela and help the country produce and move forward.''