Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday ordered the Supreme Court to prepare to prosecute Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, even though the court is not empowered to do so, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The decision, which could deepen the fissures inside the Maduro administration, came hours after Ortega gave signs that she intends to investigate corruption within the regime.
The Supreme Court confirmed Tuesday that it had accepted a petition filed by pro-government legislator Pedro Carreño asking the Venezuelan high court to decide whether there are sufficient reasons to go after the attorney general — in a proceeding known as a “Prosecution of Merit” — on allegations of “serious faults in the exercise of her position,” the top court said in a brief statement.
The court is not empowered to approve such prosecutions, warned Leonardo Palacios, a constitution expert in Caracas.
“That decision belongs to the National Assembly,” said Palacios. “That [the pronouncement of the court] has no reason to be … it is an unjust and unconstitutional trick. It has no rationale and serves as evidence that here [in Venezuela] there is no rule of law.”
The decision threatens to further deepen the divisions between Maduro supporters and those who think he betrayed the legacy of the late President Hugo Chávez.
Ortega, meanwhile, has surrounded herself with a group of Chávez loyalists, known as chavistas, who have become increasingly alarmed by the country’s expanding crisis and by Maduro’s plans to replace the Constitution via a constituent assembly handpicked by Maduro, said Antonio De La Cruz, executive director of the Washington-based think tank Inter American Trends.
Particularly dangerous for Maduro is the risk that Ortega will begin to investigate alleged corruption within the regime.
“She has a lot of information, which is a threat to the survival of the regime, because with 10 years of experience as attorney general she knows all the secrets of the Maduro administration,” De La Cruz said.
On Monday, Ortega said she was ready to focus on corruption in the Venezuelan government, a country that has been labeled the most corrupt in Latin America by the Transparency International NGO.
“Why is there no food and medicine? Is it because resources are used for different purposes? I do not know, I cannot be sure, but it would be good for the anti-corruption prosecutors to investigate,” Ortega said in a speech at the attorney general’s office in downtown Caracas.
The prosecutor also stressed the need to investigate the alleged links between drug trafficking and the top tier of the regime.
“The drug issue has to be investigated,” she added.
Vice President Tareck El Aissami has been sanctioned by the United States for alleged links to drug trafficking.
Her statements probably shook Chávez loyalists and increased tensions between the Maduro regime and the attorney general, De La Cruz said.
“With yesterday's speech … the attorney general illustrated that there are cases that she can use to prosecute officials who are part of Maduro’s inner circle,” he said.
Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter:@DelgadoAntonioM