CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A Venezuelan prosecutor who tried opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has fled the South American nation and apologized for his role in what he called a political show trial.
Caracas prosecutor Franklin Nieves' arguments helped convict Lopez in September on what the politician's supporters say were trumped up charges of inciting violence during anti-government protests last year. He was sentenced to nearly 14 years in jail.
In a video sent Friday to the Venezuelan news website La Patilla, Nieves said he fled Venezuela with his family to escape pressure from the executive branch and his superiors to stand by while "false evidence" is used to keep an innocent Lopez in jail during the appeals process. He said he would soon present evidence to demonstrate that Lopez's trial was a premediated "farce."
"For those who know me, starting now you're going to hear attempts to discredit me, to insult me, because I wouldn't lend myself anymore to continuing with this farce," a steely-eyed Nieves said in the nearly four-minute video recorded at an undisclosed location.
He urged fellow prosecutors and judges to join him in the truth-telling exercise.
"Be brave, raise your voices and express your discontent with the pressure brought to bear by our superiors, who threaten us with firing or with throwing us in jail, and always use an absurd series of arguments to threaten us to carry out their whims," said Nieves.
It's unclear where the video was shot but social media was abuzz with speculation that Nieves has fled to the United States.
The U.S. State Department and Venezuela's government had no immediate comment.
Nieves was one of five Venezuelan officials involved in Lopez's trial targeted for U.S. sanctions in a bipartisan letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew by a group of 20 members of Congress. The Obama administration has already slapped sanctions on seven other Venezuelan officials, including a high-profile prosecutor, for their alleged human rights violations during the crackdown on last year's protests, which were blamed for more than 40 deaths.
Nieves and fellow prosecutors argued during Lopez's trial that the opposition leader's vitriolic rhetoric and support for a strategy known as "The Exit" was a not-so-veiled attempt to oust President Nicolas Maduro just months after pro-government supporters swept regional elections.
Human rights groups have condemned the verdict and the U.S. government has made Lopez's release a key demand for normalizing relations.
Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda reported this story in Caracas and AP writer Joshua Goodman reported from Bogota, Colombia.