Franklin Nieves, the prosecutor responsible for securing a conviction and 13-year prison sentence for Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, has defected to the United States and confessed that the evidence he brought to the trial was “100% false.”
Nieves, speaking to the Wall Street Journal, says he took his family with him to Miami and is seeking asylum in America after having been responsible for López’s conviction. His conscience, he says, did not let him be.
López, the leader of the opposition party Popular Will, was arrested in February 2014 for assembling a peaceful protest in the capital, Caracas. He was tried for arson, terrorism, and inciting violence, and found guilty of inciting violence and causing the death of prisoners. He is currently appealing the 13-year sentence.
Nieves, who led the charge, says all the evidence he presented was false. “Leopoldo López is innocent,” he tells the Wall Street Journal. “Prosecutors and judges fear that if anyone dissents from carrying out an order, he will be detained, or a criminal case will be invented against him and he will be jailed,” he explained, noting why he went along with the trial. He asked for “forgiveness” from López’s family and noted that he “always saw their faces when I woke up in the middle of the night,” speaking specifically of López’s children.
Nieves also appeared on CNN Tuesday night to elaborate on his accusation that he was forced to present false evidence to imprison a political enemy of President Nicolás Maduro. “They put him in jail because they feared his leadership,” Nieves told CNN host Fernando del Rincón. “They violated his human rights by not allowing him to present evidence in the trial to exoneate himself.” Nieves added that the evidence he himself presented was “100% false” and that “at no moment was it poven that López made even a single call to violence or to burn the Public Minister. At all times he asked his followers for calm.”
The Venezuelan government has responded by accusing the White House of buying Nieves off or threatening his family. “It is vulgar, the way the United States blackmails, threatens, and buys off prosecutors in Latin America to prevent justice and satisfy their interests,” said Communications Minister Delcy Rodríguez in response to Nieves’s accusations.
She did not elaborate, though the statement may be a veiled reference to another Latin American prosecutor who challenged a Latin American head of state: Alberto Nisman, who accused Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of aiding and abetting Hezbollah terrorists in order to secure trade deals with Iran. Nisman never got to present his case to the Argentine legislature; he was found with a fatal gunshot wound in his forehead the night before his scheduled congressional appearance. Fernández de Kirchner is a longtime ally of the Venezuelan regime.
Rodríguez added that the State Department’s comment expressing “concern” over the López case has been “rejected as insolence” by the Venezuelan government.
Venezuelan Ombudsman Tarek William Saab dismissed Nieves’s remarks entirely, telling reporters that “they simply do not exist.”
Meanwhile, López’s attorney, Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, has told reporters that Nieves’s remarks have completely revolutionized the defense’s approach to the appellate process. “We are in the process of transcribing the prosecutor’s remarks in both videos and his declarations to the Wall Street Journal, in order to present them in the appellate process,” he said Wednesday.
The United Nations elected Venezuela to sit on its Human Rights Commission on Wednesday.