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Ousted Venezuelan Chief Prosecutor Flees to Colombia

  • Associated Press

Venezuela's dismissed chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz poses for a picture during an interview with Reuters in Caracas, Aug. 10, 2017.

Venezuela’s ousted chief prosecutor and her husband — two of President Nicolas Maduro’s most outspoken critics — fled the country and landed Friday afternoon in Colombia.

Luisa Ortega Diaz and German Ferrer arrived in Bogota aboard a private plane traveling from Aruba, Colombian migration authorities said in a statement. The couple didn’t request asylum, according to a senior Colombian official speaking on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to discuss the politically sensitive case.

Ortega and Ferrer have long been aligned with Venezuela’s ruling socialist party but recently broke with Maduro, publicly denouncing his push to convene a constitutional assembly that was installed in early August and is now going about the task of upending Venezuela’s institutions.

Politically motivated accusations

One of the assembly’s first acts was to remove Ortega and appoint one of Maduro’s key allies, Tarek William Saab, as the nation’s new top law enforcement officer.

On Thursday, the government-stacked Supreme Court ordered Ferrer placed under arrest, a day after Saab accused him of orchestrating a $6 million extortion ring that allegedly occurred under Ortega’s watch.

Ferrer denied the accusations and many believe they are politically motivated.

In June, the Supreme Court barred Ortega from leaving the country and ordered her bank accounts frozen as part of its investigation into a complaint filed by a pro-government lawmaker that accused her of acting as an opposition leader and requested a probe into her “mental insanity.”

Univision reported Friday that Ortega and Ferrer fled in a speed boat to Aruba, which lies a short distance off the northern coast of Venezuela.

The couple’s whereabouts had been unknown for several days, but earlier Friday Ortega surfaced briefly, addressing by phone a gathering of Latin America’s prosecutors in Mexico.

Ortega alleges Odebrecht coverup

Ortega told the region’s prosecutors that Maduro removed her in order to stop a probe linking him and his inner circle to nearly $100 million in bribes from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. In a plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department last year, the company admitted paying bribes to officials throughout Latin America in exchange for lucrative contracts.

Ortega denounced the government takeover of the prosecutor’s offices and said many of her colleagues have faced persecution.

Ortega first spoke out against Maduro in late March following a Supreme Court decision to nullify the opposition-controlled congress. She denounced the decision as a “rupture” of the constitutional order. The decision was later reversed amid widespread international criticism, but sparked a protest movement that has left more than 120 dead.

Maduro and his allies have frequently lashed out against Ortega, accusing her of being part of an opposition effort to overthrow Maduro. Diosdado Cabello, the leader of Venezuela’s socialist party, has repeatedly referred to her as the “traitor prosecutor.”

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