In an exclusive DW interview, Venezuela's former attorney general claims she has proof of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses that could land President Nicolas Maduro before the International Criminal Court.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro may well face a threat to his power ahead of Sunday's regional elections: Former Attorney General Luisa Ortega, removed from her post by the country's newly formed constituent assembly in August, said she has evidence of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses by the Maduro government.
Read more: What's going on in Venezuela?
Ortega told DW that the documents in her possession were sufficient to bring charges against Maduro before the International Criminal Court (ICC). She was in Geneva to present documentation proving the abuses she claims the government has committed.
The evidence "mostly relates to reports and protocols on autopsies, on-site investigations, expert statements on the projectiles … all these elements, in addition to witness statements, can support an indictment," Ortega said.
She also claims to have proof of wide-ranging corruption, in particular related to the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which has been accused of bribery and graft in numerous South American nations. "I am in possession of testimonials, I have documents, I have the numbers," Ortega said, adding that she obtained the evidence through cooperation with other state prosecution authorities.
For years, Western governments and human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have harshly criticized the situation in Venezuela. The United Nations has also issued reports on mistreatment of citizens that it says "in several cases" amounted to torture.
Asked if she was in favor of new European Union sanctions similar to those recently put in place by the United States, Ortega said she "would like ... measures taken by states to not impact the population and society."
She added that she would favor a legal, national path out of the ongoing crisis, rather than international sanctions.
'Right to elections'
With regard to the regional elections scheduled for Sunday, Ortega said: "These elections were supposed to take place last December. Voting is a right for all Venezuelans."
She also addressed the concerns of some Venezuelans that casting a ballot in the elections was an implicit endorsement of the contested constituent assembly, which has been criticized by the opposition for its ability to invalidate the results of all elections. It is not a contradiction to participate in the vote, she said, as it is guaranteed by the Constitution, not by the new constituent assembly.
"But," she also cautioned, "there is no mechanism for the judicial control of the parliament. Even if the opposition, hypothetically, wins these elections, the crisis will continue."
Some 19 million voters will have the opportunity to cast ballots for governors in 23 Venezuelan states on Sunday. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), an alliance of anti-Chavist parties that has received international support in its calls for Socialist President Maduro to step down, hopes to make big gains at the polls. Currently, Maduro's governing coalition holds power in 20 states. But opinion polls say that opposition politicians can count on winning majorities in most states.
'I am a democrat'
Ortega says she has no political ambitions at the moment apart from restoring democratic institutions and achieving justice in her homeland.
Despite having served as a high-ranking member of the former Chavez government, the ex-attorney general denied being a political opportunist and said decisively, "I am a democrat," when asked about her political affiliation.
"Chavism lost its perspective," she added, before calling on Maduro to step down and the opposition to adjust its criteria.
Fleeing to Colombia
Ortega has won the backing of many Maduro opponents for having denounced the president and his Socialist Party's attempts to reshape the Venezuelan political system and Constitution. Though she presided over the imprisonment of prominent opposition leader Leopold Lopez, Ortega denied judicial irregularities in the ruling and told DW that his sentence resulted from "the due process based in a public oral trial."
After being removed from her post by the constituent assembly in August, Ortega fled to Colombia. Her removal came after she declared the body unconstitutional. Maduro called for the establishment of the constituent assembly in May, when anti-government protests reached their zenith. Assembly representatives were elected to their posts in July, despite massive national and international protest. Meanwhile, the body has authority over all of the country's other political institutions.
The Venezuelan government and opposition have been locked in deadly street battles for months that have killed more than 120 people. The opposition accuses Maduro of leading Venezuela into a dictatorship.
A number of Western governments have also protested human rights abuses in the country and the disempowerment of the opposition-led parliament through the constituent assembly. Maduro, on the other hand, has accused opposition leaders of seeking to cast Venezuela into chaos and orchestrate a coup with the help of Venezuela's archenemy, the United States.