Former Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Christian Zerpa has fled to the United States to protest President Nicolas Maduro's inauguration this week for a controversial second term.
The high-ranking defection comes a day after Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly called Maduro's election in a vote last May illegitimate and declared its intention to create a transitional body to prepare for democratic elections.
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On Friday, a dozen Latin American countries and Canada declared they would not recognize Maduro as president if he stays in office and called on him to hand power to the National Assembly.
In an interview in Florida with EVTV, which is broadcast over cable and the internet, Zerpa said the May election "was not free and competitive."
He said he did not criticize the election at the time because he wanted to ensure the safe exit of his family from Venezuela, which has been plunged into economic and social misery under Maduro.
"I've decided to leave Venezuela to disavow the government of Nicolas Maduro," Zerpa said in the interview.
Supreme Court 'an appendage' of presidential palace
The Supreme Court confirmed that Zerpa had fled and that it had opened an investigation into the judge over alleged sexual harassment of women in his office. It said the investigation was started in November 2018 but had only been made public now that he had defected.
The National Assembly was stripped of its powers in 2016 by the Supreme Court, which is dominated by Maduro loyalists, and replaced by a separate, regime-created Constituent Assembly.
Zerpa, a longtime Socialist ally, wrote the ruling that provided the legal justification to strip the National Assembly of its powers after the opposition gained control of the body from the Socialists.
In the interview, Zerpa described the Supreme Court as "an appendage of the executive branch," and claimed justices often received instructions from the presidential palace.
The May election called by the Constituent Assembly was boycotted by most of the main opposition groups, many of whose members have been jailed or driven into exile.
cw/cmk (AFP, EFE, Reuters)