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Cablegate: Chavez Calls for Cedeno's Extradition and 35-Year Sentence for the Judge

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CARACAS 001589

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/22
TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV VE
SUBJECT: Chavez Calls for Cedeno's Extradition and 35-Year Sentence for the Judge

CLASSIFIED BY: Robin D. Meyer, Political Counselor, State, POL; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

Chavez Calls for Expeditious Extradition of Cedeno ...

1. (C) During a December 21 broadcast, President Chavez
announced that fugitive banker Eligio Cedeno had been detained in
the United States and asked the relevant government ministries to
quickly put together the necessary documentation for an extradition
request to the United States (see reftel for background on Cedeno
case). Chavez added, "Let's hope they extradite him." Chavez
alleged that Cedeno had illegally left Venezuela since the judge
had only granted him a conditional release, which prohibited him
from leaving the country and required him to appear before the
court every 15 days. (Note: The judge also required him to turn
in his passport, although it is not clear whether he actually
submitted his passport before he left the courthouse on December
10. According to DHS, Cedeno entered the United States with a
valid Venezuelan passport and visa foil #64533655, issued by
Embassy Caracas on September 10, 2003. It is therefore not clear
what, if anything, he provided to the court pursuant to the judge's
conditional release order.)

2. (C) Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States Bernardo
Alvarez told Ambassador Duddy on December 20 that the Foreign
Ministry was working with the other relevant ministries to quickly
put together the extradition request.

... and "Full Force of the Law" Against Judge Afiuni

3. (U) Chavez reiterated his call for the judicial system to
apply the full force of the law to Judge Afiuni, who ordered
Cedeno's conditional release on December 10. According to Chavez,
"Everything was planned and they took out this man by the back
door. Is she or is she not imprisoned for good reason? She is."
("Esta o no bien presa esa jueza? Esta bien.") He continued, "How
is there going to be justice in a country where judges can lend
themselves to that? ... If a killer gets 30 years, a judge should
get 35 years. I ask for the maximum sentence for the judge who
lends herself to such violations ("vagabunderias"), and not in an
office, but in prison."

4. (U) Judge Afiuna remains imprisoned at the women's
detention facility (INOF), where she was transferred on December 18
despite protests from her attorneys that she faced threats from
prisoners she may have sentenced. Her lawyers have filed requests
to have her detention order reviewed and to have her moved to
another facility. A prosecutor and a doctor reportedly visited her
in prison yesterday and "certified" that the judge said she had not
been subject to death threats and was in good health.

... and Warns Other Bankers

5. (U) Chavez congratulated Attorney General Luisa Ortega
Diaz and the police investigative bodies for their work in the case
of the banking scandal (reftel). "Fall whoever falls ... we are
obligated to look under a bigger magnifying glass... to follow the
investigations." He reiterated his insistence that the president
of the Banco Federal, Nelson Mezerhane, clarify to the Attorney
General a statement he allegedly made last week in which he said
the recent banking crisis was produced in a "laboratory" by people
"linked to the government." Chavez had previously requested an
investigation into Mezerhane's alleged statement.

Who is Judge Afiuni?

6. (U) A profile of Judge Afiuni carried in the December 19
edition of "El Nacional" described her a law school graduate who
worked for ten years in the police investigative service (CICPC)
before entering the judiciary in 2002, rising to her position of
judge in 2006. When the Cedeno case was assigned to her on
November 25, she reportedly commented to a friend that such a
"polemical" case could ruin her plans to travel to Miami, as she
does every year, to take advantage of the after-Thanksgiving Day
sales. However, she reportedly did make her annual shopping trip
to Miami and returned loaded down with suitcases and without even
enough money to pay the taxi driver who took her home from the
airport. However, the article quoted her family as saying they did
not have the financial resources to pay for private defense
attorneys and that her attorneys were personal friends who had
agreed to work pro bono.

7. (U) The article also cited a co-worker, who characterized
Afiuni as "honest, hard-working, professional, and fair. I would
not walk on coals for anyone ("no meto las manos en el fuego por
nadie"), but I would for her." A bailiff at the Ministry of
Justice said he had once overheard Afiuni tell the president of the
judicial circuit: "Don't send me political cases, leave me be,
tranquil, with my common prisoners." Another colleague commented
that "all criminal judges pray to God that we don't get a case
where the government has an interest because to decide according to
the law could cost us our job."

Comment

8. (C) Given Afiuni's reported interest in avoiding
politically-charged cases, her decision to release Cedeno is
surprising since his release after almost three years was certain
to attract attention from the highest levels of the government,
especially in light of the banking scandal that had led the
government to intervene in eight banks.
DUDDY

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