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Súmate case: Attorney General’s Office disobeys TSJ Penal Court’s decision

Press release

PRESS RELEASE No. 162 | Caracas, February 8, 2006 | An extraordinarily political atmosphere, in which the Attorney General’s Office acted only as prosecutor and not as guarantor of legality, prevailed on Tuesday, February 07 during the public hearing of the criminal judicial proceeding against members of the Civil Association SUMATE: Maria Corina Machado, Alejandro Plaz, Ricardo Estevez, and Luis Enrique Palacios. The hearing was adjourned until next Tuesday, February 14, when the Judge in charge of the Seventh Trial Court of First Instance; Elias Alvarez, will render judgment on the Public Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz’s request to imprison the defendants, an on the request by Sumate’s Defense, which, among others, includes dismissal of the proceeding, since the facts being investigated do not have penal nature.

During Tuesday’s (March 7) hearing, the Sixth Public Prosecutor with Nationwide Competence, Luisa Ortega Diaz, objected the effecting the anticipated evidence ordered by sentence of the Penal Court of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), submitted by Magistrate Alejandro Angulo Fontiveros, which objection constitutes an evident contempt. Likewise, the defense denounced lack of audiovisual recording of the trial, which is an obligation of the Court.

For Attorney Juan Martin Echeverria Jr., the Judge in charge of the case could not declare inadmissible several challenges made against him, and particularly that in which is affirmed that he is not the Judge hearing the case, since he had to detach the case file, and proceed immediately with the challenge filed by the defense, since there are objective causatives challenges evidenced in the proceedings of the case. Likewise, the Counsel for the Defense requested effecting the anticipated evidence, which is extremely important, because it relates to four witnesses, Members of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which evidence has been refused by the Attorney General’s Office and the Control Court, but was ordered by TSJ Penal Court, when it requested the case file to study it, and determined serious violations to the rights of the defendants and the due process of law, and it thus established it in its sentence.

Defendants were not heard

Both the Public Prosecutor and the Judge are obliged to hear defendants’ allegations, but they refused to do it. One of the gravest deeds that occurred during the hearing, according to Counsel for the Defense, was that the Judge did not permitted defendants to speak. Attorney Echeverria Jr. stated that the Constitution and the laws, as well as the Constitutional Penal Procedural Code very clearly state that defendants can intervene at any moment they so desire. “Incredibly, when defendants stated their desire to intervene, the Judged adjourned the hearing”.

Another irregularity was that the Judge initiated the public hearing as a Unipersonal Court, event though there is an appeal filed before the Sixth Court of Appeals against that decision. In agreement with Article 439 of the Constitutional Penal Procedural Code, the appeal produces a suspension effect, and this was ratified by April 2005-Constitutinal Court’s decision, which is binding for the administration of justice and the Attorney General’s Office.

Attorney General’s Office disobeys TSJ Penal Court’s decision

Defense Attorneys are worried due to Public Prosecutor’s requested to the Seventh Court for a decision on the application of freedom-restrictive measures against Alejandro Plaz and Maria Corina Machado, and substitutive measures against Ricardo Estevez. In the face of the Public Prosecutor’s insistence, Attorney Juan Martin Echeverria said: “…anything can happen, even though it is a frontal contempt to TSJ Penal Court’s decision that ordered effecting the anticipated evidences, and that Sumate’s executives must be tried in liberty”.

Echeverria Jr. stated to have well-founded apprehensions that this request by the Public Prosecutor will materialize on February 14, 2006, after having observed how constitutional and legal norms were violated last Tuesday 07 in a flagrant and evident form.

Disowning of Legal elemental norms

For Juan Martin Echeverria (Senior) this Tuesday reigned “an atmosphere extremely political, in which Rule of Law was thrown into the wastepaper basket, the administration of justice showed its worst face, and the Attorney General’s Office acted as prosecutor and ignored its responsibilities as guarantor of legality”.

In the face of the possibility that next Tuesday, February 14, the arrest of Sumate’s defendants may occur, Echeverria (Senior) affirms that it is evidently a “signal being sent during a long time by the government: Sumate’s executives, leave the country”.

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