"They invent the crime to fit the charges," Cedeño says. "The government starts searching for things [against you]. They open an investigation and they wait and see if you belong to the opposition. If you don't belong to the opposition, nothing happens and no one says anything. The corrupt ones are never caught because... they work closely with the government."

Cedeño dialed police Chief Henry Rangel Silva to say he would hand himself over as soon as there was a warrant. He went home to say goodbye to his wife and 1-year-old daughter Valeria. At 7:30 p.m., the phone rang.

Cedeño got into his car and drove to turn himself in.

Banker Eligio Cedeño was imprisoned for three years without a conviction.
George Martinez
Banker Eligio Cedeño was imprisoned for three years without a conviction.
Broker Tomás Vásquez Estrella wore a wire to help the FBI arrest a Venezuelan official who was extorting him.
George Martinez
Broker Tomás Vásquez Estrella wore a wire to help the FBI arrest a Venezuelan official who was extorting him.

Black. Pitch-black. Black like the end of the world. Black like despair.

Eligio Cedeño woke with a start in his cot in the Helicoide, a frightening, spiral-shaped Caracas building cut into a mountainside that is the headquarters of Venezuelan political police. But instead of the usual nighttime shadows dancing on the ceiling, he saw nothing. He lifted his hand to his face: nothing at all. He swung his legs to the floor and gazed around his closet-size cell. Cedeño couldn't even make out the small TV set at the foot of his bed. The prison was as dark and silent as a morgue.

God help me. I've gone blind, a panicked Cedeño thought.

Finally, after an hour, he could trace — just barely — the outline of the doorway. Cedeño almost cried with joy.

He had been in the same cell for months, but the late-2007 blackout was new. The president blamed that outage and others that followed on the avarice of "oligarchs." But it was Chávez who, over-reliant on oil revenue, had allowed the electrical grid to rot.

Cedeño was one of only two dozen inmates, ranging from fellow opposition figures to murderers and drug traffickers, in the Helicoide. Even in prison, Cedeño's humble origins and extraordinary wealth earned him wide leeway. Guards looked the other way when he smuggled in a BlackBerry cell phone. They also let him use a spare prison cell — dubbed "the office" — to manage his financial empire and set up family visits on weekends.

But like other inmates, he frequently went weeks without seeing the sun. Once he was forced to clean the prison's air-conditioning system and found massive vents covered in thick, oil-like sludge.

Cedeño's family worried about his safety. But he won over fellow inmates by persuading the warden to buy them exercise equipment.

While other prisoners were working out, however, Cedeño was furiously trying to keep from losing his banks and his trial. Incarceration had already cost him his position at two banks, and the government was constantly threatening to liquidate them. He finally sold Bolivar Banco and BanPro for $160 million, roughly $80 million below market value, to allies of the government rather than lose them without compensation.

"Chávez and his lackeys want to be the only relevant force in the country," Cedeño says. "The government doesn't want there to be anything [else] of importance... So if Chávez sees an institution like a bank with such economic power, then obviously it's got to disappear, but in a way that doesn't seem dictatorial: He still has to pretend to be the people's friend."

Cedeño's trial was pure Kafka. He was summoned to court five times, but prosecutors didn't show up. Two judges recused themselves — one after a bogus news story accused her of a romantic relationship with Cedeño. Then, just as a third judge was poised to rule in Cedeño's favor, the supreme court moved the case to another court.

After more than two years behind bars — the maximum allowed by the Venezuelan constitution — a United Nations report blasted the Venezuelan government and called for Cedeño's immediate release. The UN deemed Cedeño's imprisonment "a violation of his right to the presumption of innocence" and blamed prosecutors for the unconstitutional delay. "His preventative detention is arbitrary," the report continued, "and suggests a political intent manifested in a penal sentence without a trial."

(The Venezuelan government did not respond to several requests for comment for this article.)

"The first years were humiliating," Cedeño says. "What happens under Communist regimes is that... in order to deal with international pressure, they accuse you of something heinous."

On December 10, 2009, Cedeño once again appeared in court, and once again prosecutors didn't show up. But the judge, a short woman with blond highlights named María Lourdes Afiuni, was persuaded by the UN report. Amazingly, she agreed to free him on bail. Then a constable asked what do with him.

"He's not going back," Afiuni replied. With that, Cedeño says, he walked into the hall, right past the prosecutors on their cell phones. He said goodbye to the cops and strolled down the stairs and out the front door into the chaotic midday bustle of Caracas. Then he hailed a moto taxi.

As the city's smoggy air smacked his face, he thought of his daughter Valeria. And he pondered sleeping next to his wife again. Minutes later, however, Cedeño received a call. Police had refused his release order. He was a wanted man once again, so home was out of the question.

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31 comments
USA1
USA1

Verdad que abrir una pagina y toparse con la jeta de mono del tipejo de Chavez, es terrorismo mediatico.

Paz-y-union-para-venezuela
Paz-y-union-para-venezuela

la verdad no se puede tapar con un dedo, SR CEDEÑO QUE DIOS LO BENDIGA, GUIE SU CORAZON, gente buena que no se presto para vender este pais, que no se humilla, que quiere vivir libre, que saLe de la pobreza, puede tener errores, quien no es humano verdad? donde hay justicia los errores se pagan pero cuando se quiere hacer el daño por no servirle al proposito del que cree ser dueño entonces vemos UNA INMENSA INJUSTICIA COMO ESTA DIOS TE BENDIGA, DIOS VENDIGA VENEZUELA, PAZ Y CERENIDAD,

Pidolapazparavenezuela
Pidolapazparavenezuela

la verdad no se puede tapar con un dedo, SR CEDEÑO QUE DIOS LO BENDIGA, GUIE SU CORAZON, gente buena que no se presto para vender este pais, que no se humilla, que quiere vivir libre, que saLe de la pobreza, puede tener errores, quien no es humano verdad? donde hay justicia los errores se pagan pero cuando se quiere hacer el daño por no servirle al proposito del que cree ser dueño entonces vemos UNA INMENSA INJUSTICIA COMO ESTA DIOS TE BENDIGA, DIOS VENDIGA VENEZUELA, PAZ Y CERENIDAD,

Unomas
Unomas

la verdad no se puede tapar con un dedo, SR CEDEÑO QUE DIOS LO BENDIGA, GUIE SU CORAZON, gente buena que no se presto para vender este pais, que no se humilla, que quiere vivir libre, que saLe de la pobreza, puede tener errores, quien no es humano verdad? donde hay justicia los errores se pagan pero cuando se quiere hacer el daño por no servirle al proposito del que cree ser dueño entonces vemos UNA INMENSA INJUSTICIA COMO ESTA DIOS TE BENDIGA, DIOS VENDIGA VENEZUELA, PAZ Y CERENIDAD,

allen
allen

How long you going to keep this stupid same story as fresh news?Your page is real stale.

Billmart
Billmart

Existen miles de ladronees de marca mayor en el exilio en Miami y similar a este tipo. Porque este reportero y este periodico se identifican con esta clase de gente ??? ... porque pretenden que sintamos lastima por esa clase de peces gordos, ladrones y corruptos vendepatrias ???

fagchavez
fagchavez

jajaja. vendepatrias solo porque no quieren aceptar unos cargos falsos que les impuso la marica de chavez? por favor...

USA1
USA1

Co mo tu!. Besa k.u.l.o comunista y cobarde asqueroso. vete pa'l ca.ra.jo.!

Billmart
Billmart

Well, I read the whole history, before realize it was written by the Miami NewTimes News, nothing really new from biases kind of newspaper and similar to The Miami Herald style. Why we do not see the same type of news in any other newspaper around the country ??? ... well, those are maybe a littel more serious kind of media, right !!

rodrigo
rodrigo

Sometimes not all newspapers have interest that is truthful, investigative journalists still exist that perform deep investigations of cases that people only mention what is said officially, without knowing the truth of the facts.

Bridget
Bridget

Tomas Vasquez is a THIEF, you sir were taken for a fool on this article. While Eligio civil rights were most definitely violated to put that thief in the same category is ridicoulous.

fernado briceno
fernado briceno

Ladron es Ramos y su combo, pero ha esos si no los nombran, que se aprovecharon de toda esta situacion para saquear a las Casas de Bolsa en Venezuela

adolfo rodriguez
adolfo rodriguez

How easy it is to write the word thief without putting your full name, at least put it, and be more courageous is very easy to point.

Required my ass
Required my ass

Interpol just removed him from their Red List. If the authorities don't think he's a thief, why do you? And why would a thief go to the authorities to help convict a blackmailer? Sounds like you're buying into Chavez propaganda.

MrChe
MrChe

Cedeno looks like Chavez, i wonder now maybe chavez had a son with another woman.. thats why Cedeno is pissed...hah..at the end i dont cinpatized with Cedeno... He is a banker... come on.. he is living the life in Miami with all his Venezualans agry friends..and Chavez he is a jackass..

Pepe
Pepe

This guy is as corrupt as chavez is. So don't listen to any of this marketing article

pat mourassa
pat mourassa

And we should feel sorry for that BANKER THIEF.

raymon v
raymon v

NOBODY COMPLAINTS ABOUT CHAVEZ, HE IS AN ANGEL. LOVE YOU PAPI

raymon v
raymon v

VIVA HUGO, VIVA FIDEL, VIVA LA REVOLUCION

Yolomato
Yolomato

pura paja lo que sale de esa boca sucia que tienes!!!!! SILENCIO BECERRO!!!! ya caeran o moriran tus heroes!

raymon v
raymon v

paja en tu boca marica come pinga capitalista

Trerer
Trerer

I wonder HOW did he fly the glider... is not as easy as they said here. They dont said either he knew how to

Iceberg
Iceberg

i'm sick of all these venezuelans bitching all the time about chavez....why don't they go back and do something about it, instead of yelling and complaining from the comfort of their doral estates!!!

Marymarina
Marymarina

THE USA have become the Venezuelan's corrupt bankers paradise....they come to the USA looking for political asylum..with multi million dollars bank accounts... and they get the "GREEN CARDS"... Not all Venezuelan's bankers are corrupt and some of them have made a legitimate fortune...but most of them are bandits and their moneys are not legal....who cares..they USA give them GREEN CARDS...

Pentacles9
Pentacles9

Unfortunately, it is the bankers who have caused the global economic crisis. I have no sympathy for bankers, especially after the bailout which occured here in the US, at taxpayer expense. These criminals basically robbed us taxpayers so they can continue to play casino with our economy, and the economies of other countries. It is not socialism, capitalism, or any ism, it is power purchased with money in corrupt hands which has ruined the world.

Johnvicario
Johnvicario

i wonder how Mr. Cedeno made such a fortune.....only in such a corrupt country that happens.. I am agains Chavez...but he has been right in sending to jail so many bankers that had made fortunes in only a couple of year....ironically, the once that escape from Venezuela come to Miami and apply for an assylum VISA., that so far have been granted by the USA to so many corrupt Venezuelan bankers...So if you have a lot of money...no matter how you made it..and you are "lucky enough" to be a Chavez enemy...you ran away and get the american dream..A big house.. expensive car....shopping designer clothes...wearing expensive jewerly...and with a GREEN CARD.....THE US Goverment should be more selective granting those visas...

Sfuh Ugd
Sfuh Ugd

i wonder how Mr. Cedeno made such a fortune.....only in such a corrupt country that happens..WHAT? ARE YOU SERIOUS...LOL...HE OWNS A BANK GIVE ME A BREAK.

I am agains Chavez...but he has been right in sending to jail so many bankers that had made fortunes in only a couple of year....YOU DONT KNOW WHAT YOURE TALKING ABOUT I BET YOU DONT EVEN KNOW WHERE VENEZUELA IS IN A MAP

ironically, the once that escape from Venezuela come to Miami and apply for an assylum VISA., that so far have been granted by the USA to so many corrupt Venezuelan bankers...THEYRE NOT GRANTED A VISA BECAUSE THEY APPLY FOR AN ASSYLUM THEYRE GRANTED A VISA BECAUSE THEY HAVE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND INVESTMENT PROPERTIES IN THE U.S. AND THEY PAY UNCLE SAM EVERY YEAR

So if you have a lot of money...no matter how you made it..and you are "lucky enough" to be a Chavez enemy...you ran away and get the american dream..WHAT? LOL. WHAT AMERICAN DREAM THESE PEOPLE HAVE MANY HOUSES IN MANY COUNTRIES AND TONS OF MILLIONS THERES NO AMERICAN DREAM, AMERICAN DREAM IS ONLY FOR POOR PEOPLE LIKE YOU

A big house.. expensive car....shopping designer clothes...wearing expensive jewerly...and with a GREEN CARD.....HE'S HAD ALL THOSE EXPENSIVE THINGS SINCE HE WAS BORN OR YOU THINK HE HASNT? DO YOUR RESEARCH HE COMES FROM A RICH FAMILY

THE US Goverment should be more selective granting those visas...BABY THE US GOVERNMENT WORKS LIKE THIS: YOU PAY, YOU GET.

MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT YOURE TALKING ABOUT BEFORE TALKIN SHIT ABOUT US VENEZUELANS!

Geap1944
Geap1944

This is the same Chavista innuendo that the blogger writes. Some of his bankers turned out to be corrupt, so to confuse public opinion he intervenes most banks and brokerage firms so that some get confused and can't distinguish between the honest ones and the corrupt ones. Next thing you have people saying that if he is a banker, then he must be corrupt, without presenting any evidence.

USA1
USA1

America Letrina

Juan Carlos P
Juan Carlos P

Watch you are becoming part of it you live in the same continent asshole! UNITED SUCKS OF AMERICA

 
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