Venezuela's fleeing prosecutor to use Brazil event to slam Maduro

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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BRASILIA, Brazil (AFP) — Venezuela's fugitive former top prosecutor promised to use an international forum in Brazil on Wednesday to intensify corruption allegations against President Nicolas Maduro, who called for her arrest.

Days after a dramatic escape from Venezuela, Luisa Ortega, 59, arrived in the Brazilian capital Brasilia late Tuesday, promising to dish dirt on Maduro, who in turn asked Interpol to put out a "red notice" warrant for his critic.

Ortega was taking part in a crime-fighting conference with representatives from the Latin American regional trading alliance Mercosur.

The event will provide a high-profile stage for her claims that Maduro has enriched himself -- as Venezuela descends into economic collapse -- through a massive corruption scheme uncovered at Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht.

"I will talk about the Odebrecht scandal, corruption in Venezuela and my situation," she told reporters at Brasilia's airport where she flew in from Panama.

Brazil's prosecutor general said in a statement that he had personally invited Ortega, adding to the intrigue surrounding her fate since being fired by Maduro this month and charged with misconduct.

She and her husband, German Ferrer, fled last Friday after the pro-Maduro Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Ferrer for alleged corruption and extortion. On Tuesday, Maduro said the couple had committed "serious crimes."

However, neighboring Columbia and Brazil have both firmly condemned Maduro's handling of the crisis and oil-rich Venezuela has been suspended indefinitely from the Mercosur group.

"This is something that highlights the split between Venezuela and the majority of the neighboring countries," foreign policy expert Mauricio Santoro, at the Rio de Janeiro State University, said.

Santoro said the Odebrecht allegations would have particular resonance in the regional setting, given the company's vast reach and the ever-expanding list of corruption suspects.

- Allegations and anxiety -

A loyalist of late socialist president Hugo Chavez, Ortega broke ranks with his successor Maduro to become his most high-ranking domestic critic as international pressure on the president mounted.

Last month, Maduro set up a new constitutional body packed with his allies, which a few days later removed Ortega from her post.

She hit back on Friday by claiming she had evidence implicating Maduro and his close allies in the Odebrecht scandal, which involved enormous quantities of bribes paid to politicians around the region and in Brazil to win contracts.

"They are very worried and anxious, because they know we have details on all the cooperation, amounts and people who got rich," Ortega told a meeting of Latin American prosecutors in Mexico by video conference.

"And that investigation involves Mr Nicolas Maduro and his inner circle."

Maduro counter-attacked on Sunday, alleging on television that Ortega had received money for blocking corruption investigations that he had ordered.

Maduro was elected in 2013 after the death of his late mentor Chavez.

Venezuela has since descended into chaos that has raised fears for regional stability.

The fall in world prices for its oil exports has left it short of dollars for vital imports.

Maduro's critics accuse him of clinging to power by hijacking the state institutions amid shortages of food and medicine.

Clashes between protesters and police this year have left 125 people dead, according to prosecutors.

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