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Venezuela court issues jail sentence for judge accused of corruption by Chavez

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Venezuela court issues jail sentence for judge accused of corruption by Chavez
FILE PHOTO: Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni (C) walks out her house with her lawyer Jose Amalio Graterol (R) in Caracas June 14, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins   -   Copyright  Carlos Garcia Rawlins(Reuters)
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CARACAS (Reuters) – A Venezuelan court on Thursday issued a five-year jail sentence to a judge who was arrested in 2009 after then-President Hugo Chavez demanded she be imprisoned, a case often cited by critics as evidence of the country’s curtailed judicial independence.

Judge Maria Afiuni was jailed without a warrant shortly after Chavez criticized one of her rulings and demanded she be given 30 years in prison. She later said she was raped while in jail and refused health treatment by authorities.

Her lawyer, Juan Carlos Goitia, said she had been convicted of corruption, according to a sentence read to him by the judge presiding over the case, adding that he had not received a copy of the sentence.

She is expected to serve the sentence under house arrest, which she was granted in 2011.

Goitia said the tribunal did not provide any explanation of what act of corruption was involved.

The Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Chavez in a televised address called Afiuni a “bandit” for releasing businessman Eligio Cedeno, who had been accused of corruption and later fled the country.

Prosecutors later accused Afiuni of taking bribes to free Cedeno. Afiuni denied the charges, insisting she released Cedeno because he had been awaiting trial for longer than allowed by law.

Ruling Socialist Party leaders have in the past rejected her rape allegations as a hoax to gain sympathy.

(Reporting by Mayela Armas; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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