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Venezuelan Political Prisoner Poses an Acid Test for International Law

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2009-01-28 07:22:07     
Amsterdam & Peroff

The legal team for Venezuelan political prisoner Eligio Cedeno has announced a new international front in its defense campaign, including the hiring Canadian attorney Robert R. Amsterdam of Amsterdam & Peroff, as part of an effort to raise awareness of Venezuela's collapsing legal system and the egregious disregard for Mr. Cedeno's constitutional rights.

During a press conference held in Caracas on Wednesday, Amsterdam cited a long list of severe procedural violations by Venezuelan prosecutors in the Cedeno case, including the illegal suspension of the trial on the eve of a verdict, once it became clear that the state had failed to prove their case. In the process, Mr. Cedeno has been incarcerated for almost two years without a conviction, in clear violation of his constitutional rights. Now, prosecutors have asked for more time to hold him in pre-trial detention while they consider their options.

"Anyone who looks objectively at these facts can see that Eligio Cedeno violated no laws, but is the target of an arbitrary campaign of persecution," said Amsterdam. "When the state ignores the law in order to keep innocent people incarcerated, the conclusion must be that Venezuela is holding political prisoners. It is time for the international community to send a clear message to the government of Venezuela: the law is not a weapon to silence dissent, it is a mechanism to protect the sovereign rights of the people."

Before his arrest on Feb. 8, 2007, Cedeno was one of Venezuela's most successful financial executives and President of the Bolivar-Banpro Financial Group. In the course of directing various philanthropic projects, he developed relationships with members of the political opposition, which his lawyers maintain is part of the state's motivation for denying him due process and a fair trial while holding him in prolonged pre-trial detention.

The Attorney General's office accuses Mr. Cedeno of violating Venezuela's strict foreign exchange controls when the bank where he worked, Banco Canarias, processed a fraudulent currency exchange application by a bank customer claiming to be purchasing computers from abroad, which in fact never arrived in Venezuela. Venezuela's currency exchange commission (CADIVI) is the sole entity that is legally responsible and equipped to verify the truthfulness of the currency exchange applications, and CADIVI approved the transactions in question. The responsibility of Banco Canarias was limited to verifying that the applications had been completed correctly and were accompanied by the required documentation, which the bank duly performed.

Mr. Cedeno is also accused of misappropriating Venezuelan currency of Banco Canarias to fund the fraudulent exchange transaction, and of attempting to smuggle the fictitious computers. At trial, Mr. Cedeno sought to introduce documents and testimony that would exonerate him of all charges, but he was denied the right to introduce any of that evidence.

Robert R. Amsterdam has been added to the defense team because of his experience with human rights abuses and business disputes in trans-national courts - including matters involving Russia, which suffers from similar trends in authoritarian politics and the weakening rule of law.

"After two years of fighting for the constitutional right to a fair trial, it has become clear that this is no longer just a case about Mr. Cedeno, but rather a trial of Venezuela's legal system itself," said Emilio Berrizbeitia, an attorney on the Cedeno defense team. "Even though Mr. Cedeno was not allowed to introduce evidence that clearly demonstrated his innocence, the prosecutors could not prove that he violated any law. There is simply no conceivable legal reason why Mr. Cedeno should remain incarcerated a day longer."

For ongoing information and updates on the Eligio Cedeno case, please visit http://www.eligiocedeno.com and Robert Amsterdam's new Venezuela-focused blog, at http://www.robertamsterdam.com/venezuela.

Specialized in: Venezuelan Political Prisoner Poses - Acid Test - International Law
URL: http://www.robertamsterdam.com
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