Venezuela

Top Venezuelan prosecutor asks court to block all-powerful assembly

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, greets employees and journalists after a news conference at her Caracas office Monday.
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, greets employees and journalists after a news conference at her Caracas office Monday. AP

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor asked a court Thursday to block the installation of a new constituent assembly Friday because its members were chosen under suspected fraud.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega sought the order from a lower court in an apparent attempt to sidestep the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which is stacked with allies of President Nicolás Maduro.

The court filing “is based on the presumption that crimes were committed during the electoral process,” the Public Ministry posted on Twitter.

Still, the prosecutor’s request will almost certainly be denied. Maduro’s ruling socialist party controls all but one Venezuelan institution, the opposition-held parliament.

Ortega, a former Maduro loyalist who has turned into a vocal critic, launched an investigation Wednesday into Sunday’s vote after the company that provides Venezuela with its elections machines and software admitted the results had been altered. She ordered two prosecutors to investigate four of five National Electoral Council members backed by Maduro. The fifth member, who represents the opposition, said he couldn’t back the results.

“We’re also considering turning to international bodies once we determine if we’re also looking at crimes against humanity,” Ortega told CNN en Español.

The electoral council claimed nearly 8.1 million people voted Sunday, a figure more than double the estimates of the opposition and a respected exit poll. Smartmatic, the voting-software company, said Wednesday the result was inflated by at least 1 million votes. At least 10 people died in Sunday clashes with government security forces.

“This is incredibly serious,” Ortega told CNN en Español. “I don’t know if in the history of any other country we’ve seen something like this. Polling places were empty. Turnout was meager. It’s probable that not even 15 percent of voters cast ballots.”

Ortega had previously appealed to the Supreme Court to try to stop the vote for constituent assembly members. The opposition boycotted the election, which was condemned by the U.S. and a slew of other countries and international bodies.

The assembly is slated to hold its first meeting Friday. The opposition plans to protest.

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