US offers $5m for capture of Venezuela chief justice Moreno

Maikel Moreno
Maikel Moreno has been leading Venezuela's Supreme Court since 2017

The US is offering a reward of $5m (£3.9m) for information leading to the arrest or conviction of the chief justice of Venezuela, Maikel Moreno.

The US accuses Mr Moreno of participating in transnational organised crime, which he denies.

He is the latest senior official in the administration of President Nicolás Maduro for whom a multi-million dollar reward is being offered.

The US does not recognise the Maduro government as legitimate.

Who is Maikel Moreno?

The 54-year-old judge has been leading Venezuela’s Supreme Court since February 2017.

The Supreme Court has played a key role in overruling or annulling laws passed by the National Assembly, the only institution which is not controlled by the Maduro government.

What does the US accuse him of?

The US State Department alleges that Mr Moreno has received bribes in exchange for telling judges to release defendants or dismissing cases altogether.

Earlier this year, he was charged with money laundering by a court in Florida.

On Tuesday, the US Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program offered $5m for information leading to his arrest or conviction for allegedly “participating in transnational organised crime”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US government was sending a clear message.

How has Mr Moreno reacted?

Mr Moreno dismissed the allegations, saying it was “not the first time that the mouthpieces of the North American empire seek to attack me with their clumsy attacks, full of manipulations and lies”.

He added that “cowardly and unfounded accusations like these only strengthen my desire to keep working from the Supreme Court to guarantee access to justice and due process to all citizens of the land”.

Human rights groups say the rights of Venezuelan citizens are routinely violated in the form of arbitrary detentions, torture at the hands of the security forces and extrajudicial killings.

A United Nations report published last week also said that victims of alleged human rights violations had difficulty obtaining justice in Venezuelan courts.

The Maduro government dismissed the report as “biased”.

What happens next?

Previous offers of rewards for top Venezuelan officials have so far had little effect. In March, the US accused President Maduro of “narco-terrorism” and said it would pay $15m for information leading to his arrest.

Mr Moreno, who as chief justice wields considerable power, is unlikely to face any problems within Venezuela, where the security forces continue to back the government of Mr Maduro.

However, he could face arrest if he travels abroad and he and his wife are now banned from entering the US.

Despite their anti-American rhetoric, many Venezuelan officials have in the past travelled to the US for holidays or shopping visits.

The US has been tightening its sanctions on the Venezuelan government for months, but Mr Maduro and his administration remain in power despite a rival claim to the presidency by Juan Guaidó.

Mr Guaidó, who leads the opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself interim president last year arguing that Mr Maduro’s re-election had been fraudulent and therefore was null and void.

The opposition leader is recognised by the US, the UK and more than 50 other nations as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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