The United States is offering a reward of $ 5million (£ 3.9million) for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Venezuela’s chief justice, Maikel Moreno.
The United States accuses Moreno of participating in transnational organized crime, which he denies.
He is the last high official in the administration of President Nicolás Maduro to be offered a multi-million dollar award.
The United States does not recognize the Maduro government as legitimate.
Who is Maikel Moreno?
The 54-year-old judge has headed Venezuela’s Supreme Court since February 2017.
The Supreme Court has played a key role in overturning or overturning laws passed by the National Assembly, the only institution not controlled by the Maduro government.
What is the United States accusing him of?
The US State Department alleges that Mr. Moreno received bribes in exchange for telling judges to either release the defendants or dismiss the cases altogether.
Earlier this year, he was charged with money laundering in a Florida court.
On Tuesday, the US Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program offered $ 5 million for information leading to his arrest or conviction for allegedly “participating in transnational organized crime.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US government is sending a clear message.
How did Mr. Moreno react?
Mr Moreno dismissed the allegations, saying it was “not the first time that spokespersons for the North American Empire have sought to attack me with their clumsy attacks, full of manipulation and lies.”
He added that “such cowardly and unfounded accusations only reinforce my desire to continue working from the Supreme Court to ensure access to justice and due process for all citizens of the country.”
Human rights groups claim that the rights of Venezuelan citizens are routinely violated in the form of arbitrary detention, torture by security forces and extrajudicial killings.
A United Nations report released last week also said victims of alleged human rights violations are struggling to obtain justice in Venezuelan courts.
The Maduro government dismissed the report as “biased”.
What happens next?
Previous offers of rewards for senior Venezuelan officials have so far had little effect. In March, the United States accused President Maduro of “narco-terrorism” and said it would pay $ 15 million for information leading to his arrest.
Mr Moreno, who as chief justice wields considerable power, is unlikely to encounter any problems in Venezuela, where security forces continue to support Mr Maduro’s government.
However, he could face arrest if he travels overseas and he and his wife are now barred from entering the United States.
Despite their anti-American rhetoric, many Venezuelan officials have in the past traveled to the United States for vacation or shopping.
The United States has been toughening its sanctions against the Venezuelan government for months, but Mr. Maduro and his administration remain in power despite a rival claim to the presidency by Juan Guaidó.
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Mr Guaidó, who heads the opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself interim president last year, claiming that Mr Maduro’s re-election was fraudulent and therefore null and void.
The Leader of the Opposition is recognized by the United States, the United Kingdom and more than 50 other countries as the legitimate president of Venezuela.