A former Venezuelan Supreme Court judge fled his country to the United States to protest President Nicolas Maduro’s second term.
A one-time Maduro backer, Justice Christian Zerpa told a Miami broadcaster on Sunday that Maduro does not “deserve” to serve a second six-year term after winning in unfair elections. Maduro’s inauguration is scheduled for Thursday.
“I’ve decided to leave Venezuela to disavow the government of Nicolas Maduro,” Zerpa said in an interview with EVTV.
“I believe President Nicolas Maduro does not deserve a second chance because the election he supposedly won was not free and competitive,” he said.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court confirmed in a statement posted on social media that Zerpa had fled, referring to him as a former magistrate and saying he was under investigation over accusations of sexual harassment by women in his office.
The defection comes amid growing international pressure on Maduro over his new term, which he won in a widely boycotted 2018 election. The election was dismissed by many countries as a sham.
For years, Zerpa was an ally of Maduro’s on the Supreme Court, which has backed the ruling Socialist Party in every major legal dispute since Maduro’s election in 2013.
He wrote a 2016 ruling that provided the legal justification for Maduro’s government to strip Venezuela’s National Assembly of most of its powers after the opposition gained control of the body in a landslide election.
In the interview on Sunday, Zerpa described the Supreme Court as an “appendage of the executive branch” and said the justices were at times summoned to the presidential palace to receive instructions on how to rule on certain sensitive cases.
He added that he did not come out publicly against Maduro’s re-election in May because he wanted to ensure he and his family could leave the country safely.
Zerpa’s words echoed those of former Justice Eladio Aponte, who fled to the US in 2012 and said the government of Venezuela’s late socialist leader Hugo Chavez – Maduro’s predecessor – had systematically manipulated court affairs.
Opposition leaders have urged foreign governments not to recognise Maduro’s new term and a group of Latin American countries and Canada, known as the Lima Group, issued a statement on Friday calling for Maduro not to take office.
In a tweet on Sunday, Maduro defended his new mandate, saying the people had given “legitimacy” to his administration “with their vote”.
“To those who hope to break our will, make no mistake Venezuela will be respected!” he said.
The inauguration comes as sky-high inflation continues to plague Venezuela, causing food and medical shortages and forcing millions to flee the country.