Venezuela high court, top prosecutor in political showdown

The defiant chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, has emerged as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's most-feared critic.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

In recent weeks, Ortega has accused security forces of excessive violence and said the president's plan for a new congress threatens democracy.

Venezuela's chief prosecutor refused to appear in court Tuesday in a case she says was trumped up by the authorities after she defied them over the country's deadly political crisis.

Luisa Ortega faced imminent suspension after her move cranked up the tension in a standoff with President Nicolas Maduro, who is resisting fierce opposition calls to quit.

Ortega, 59, is the most senior figure to defy Maduro as he fends off efforts to remove him from power in the volatile oil-exporting nation.

"I am not going condone a circus that will stain our history with shame and pain and whose decision is foretold," Ortega told a news conference at the public prosecution department.

"I have committed no crime nor errors and I am not going to submit to this unconstitutional and illegitimate court," she added. "We already know that today I will be removed from my post."

Ortega's stand has raised the prospect of a split in the government camp that could tip the balance in a deadly power struggle. Three months of unrest have left 90 people dead, prosecutors say.

Protesters blame Maduro, a socialist, for a desperate economic crisis. He says the chaos is the result of a US-backed conspiracy.

Protests in Venezuela, during which nearly 80 have died, frequently culminate in violent clashes with security forces.

An ongoing battle

Ortega launched a legal challenge against the government on human rights grounds, and a case against Supreme Court judges.

She accuses Maduro of violating the constitution through his reform plans.

Pro-government lawmaker Pedro Carreno responded by filing charges against Ortega, alleging "serious errors in the carrying out of her functions."

He also alleged she was suffering from "insanity" and should be fired.

Last week, the Supreme Court ordered Ortega's assets to be frozen and banned her from leaving the country.

The court held its hearing Tuesday in her absence and said afterwards it would decide within five days whether to send her to trial and suspend her from office.

"She sold her soul to the devil," Carreno said in the hearing. "She had her price and became a traitor just like Judas."

The court earlier named a new deputy chief prosecutor to replace Ortega if she is fired: government ally Katherine Harrington.