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Venezuela's top prosecutor wants house arrest extended for anti-Chavez judge
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ' Venezuela's top prosecutor said Wednesday she intends to extend the house arrest of a judge whose case has been strongly criticized by human rights groups.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega said Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni has intentionally delayed her own trial by repeatedly refusing to enter a courtroom. The judge faces corruption charges for releasing a banker accused of violating foreign exchange controls.
Under Venezuelan law, suspects cannot be held in custody longer than two years without trial and Afiuni was arrested on Dec. 10, 2009.
Ortega said she would ask a judge to extend Afiuni's house arrest for two years.
Afiuni's relatives argue that the order keeping her under house arrest should be rescinded this week.
Government opponents, joined by some human rights activists, say Afiuni's case shows President Hugo Chavez's influence over Venezuela's judicial system.
The judge's brother, Nelson Afiuni, said his sister's lawyer planned to challenge Ortega's forthcoming request during a meeting with a judge Friday.
But he quickly added that he and other relatives of Afiuni did not expect a favorable decision because they perceive Ortega an ally of Chavez as well as a powerbroker who gets what she wants from acquiescent judges.
"They are going to appeal," Afiuni said during a telephone interview after hearing Ortega's announcement about his sister. "We don't have much hope because judges in this prejudiced justice system give prosecutors whatever they request."
Judge Afiuni infuriated Chavez when she freed a banker from the prison where he was awaiting trial on charges of flouting the country's currency exchange controls.
A day after her arrest, Chavez said on national TV that he had discussed Afiuni's actions with the president of the Supreme Court.
Chavez vehemently denies the charges of interference, while human rights activists say Afiuni's case stands out because she is being prosecuted for a routine ruling and because Chavez intervened.
Amnesty International, joined by several Venezuelan rights groups, is demanding her release.
Christopher Toothaker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ctoothaker