Venezuelan legislature removes lawmaker's immunity amid corruption probe

FILE PHOTO: Minister for University Education, Science and Technology Hugbel Roa talks to the media during a news conference regarding the new cryptocurrency the Petro, in Caracas, Venezuela, January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's ruling party-controlled National Assembly unanimously revoked a legislator's immunity from prosecution on Tuesday, amid a widespread corruption scandal.

Hugbel Roa, a lawmaker and former higher education minister, can now be indicted for "flagrant crimes of corruption," assembly secretary Rosalba Gil said in a televised session.

The assembly did not give details about the case that Roa is allegedly implicated in, but he is known as a close ally of long-standing official Tareck El Aissami.

El Aissami resigned as oil minister on Monday following the detention of some 20 officials amid a corruption probe focused on state-run oil company PDVSA.

Removing immunity is required to try cases involving legislators within the ordinary justice system, instead of in the supreme court.

The vote on Roa's immunity was held at the request of court.

Pro-government news outlet Ultimas Noticias had reported Roa was arrested over the weekend, while President Nicolas Maduro mentioned in remarks on Monday that one lawmaker had been arrested but did not name the person.

All 277 legislators approved the immunity removal measure, said Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez, who added that there could be more arrests, without providing more details.

The armed forces said in a statement earlier on Tuesday that military officials are implicated in corruption cases, but they did not provide names of those allegedly involved nor information about arrests.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera, Mayela Armas and Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Josie Kao)

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