Chavez says judge's case could be reviewed

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday that he can ask legal authorities to review the case of a judge who has been detained for more than two years on corruption charges.

Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni was released from jail last year and has been under house arrest due to health problems.

She infuriated Chavez when she freed a banker from prison while he was awaiting trial on charges of flouting the country's currency exchange controls. A day after her arrest in 2009, Chavez said on television that she should face a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

The judge maintains she is innocent.

American intellectual Noam Chomsky has taken an interest in Afiuni's case and last month called for her release in a letter, saying she "has suffered enough and should be released."

"I received a letter, a new letter from Chomsky. I have to respond to him," Chavez said during Friday's speech. "Now, in reality that's not within my powers. I can ask as head of state, well, that the case be studied in the courts."

"She's not any political prisoner in truth. She isn't. Now if she's sick, has some problem, well the case must be studied," Chavez said.

The president last year urged judicial authorities to consider parole for any prisoners with serious health problems, and subsequently four jailed government opponents were granted parole.

Chavez commented on Afiuni's case when asked by an opposition lawmaker during his annual speech to the Nation Assembly.

He also referred to the cases of several former police officials now serving prison sentences for their alleged roles in killings during a protest march that preceded a short-lived 2002 coup.

"Now, to ask me to do something in that case, I'm sorry there's nothing I can do," Chavez said.

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