Fleeing Maduro critic says Venezuela now lawless

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BRASÍLIA: Venezuela’s fugitive former top prosecutor resurfaced in Brazil on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) claiming to possess “a lot” of proof of President Nicolas Maduro’s corruption and warning that her life remains in danger.

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Days after a dramatic escape from chaotic Venezuela, Luisa Ortega, 59, turned up the heat on Maduro, who has asked Interpol to issue a “red notice” warrant for the arrest of his critic.

Ortega—speaking at a crime-fighting conference in the Brazilian capital with representatives from the Latin American regional trading alliance Mercosur—said Maduro enriched himself in a massive corruption scheme uncovered at Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht.

“I have a lot of proof, concretely in the Odebrecht case, which implicates many high-ranking Venezuelans, starting with the president of the republic,” she said.

“The rule of law has died” under Maduro, she said, suggesting the country has become a criminal haven where evidence in organized crime cases tends to “disappear.”

“There are many in Venezuela who have an interest in stopping investigations of corruption cases or cases related to drug trafficking or terrorism,” she said.

The move came as US Vice President Mike Pence vowed Washington would not allow “the collapse of Venezuela,” amid a political crisis triggered by Maduro’s decision last month to set up a new constitutional body, in a move widely seen as a power grab.

“The collapse of Venezuela will endanger all who call the Western Hemisphere home,” Pence said in remarks delivered Wednesday before some 600 people at a Catholic church in Doral, the heart of Miami’s Venezuelan community.

“We cannot and will not let that happen,” he said, adding that “working with our allies in the Latin American region, the US will confront and overcome all who dare to threaten our well-being.”

‘Death threats’
Ortega, who fled to Colombia from Venezuela with her husband German Ferrer last Friday, said she was still in danger.

“I have received threats that there may be an attempt against my life and I hold the Venezuelan government responsible if this happens,” she said at the conference, which she attended after flying to Brasilia from Panama.

Brazil’s prosecutor general said in a statement that he had personally invited Ortega, adding to the intrigue since she was fired by Venezuela’s socialist president this month and charged with misconduct.

The prosecutor appointed under Maduro to take Ortega’s place dismissed her allegations, saying “they have no legal validity.”

“They would have validity if she had presented these supposed proofs before the judicial system,” said the chief prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, in Caracas.

Saab described Ortega’s statements as “libelous propaganda” and suggested there was a hidden agenda behind her traveling in exile. “We should see who is supporting these trips.”

On Tuesday, Maduro said Ortega and Ferrer had committed “serious crimes” and should be apprehended. Ferrer is accused by Maduro’s government of corruption and extortion.

However, neighboring Colombia and Brazil have come to Ortega’s defense and firmly condemn Maduro’s handling of violent political unrest and economic collapse in his oil-rich country. Venezuela has been suspended indefinitely from the Mercosur group.

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