In 2006, Robert Amsterdam was retained by Eligio Cedeño, one of Venezuela’s most successful bankers who had become a political prisoner of then-President Hugo Chávez.
Mr. Cedeño had been formally indicted in 2005 because one of his bank’s clients, Consorcio Microstar, was accused of having violated Venezuela’s foreign exchange controls through the purchase of $27 million US dollars at the artificially low government exchange rate. The case alleging Cedeño’s involvement was thoroughly without merit, but because of his financial support of several key opposition figures, President Chávez used his political prosecutors to make an example out of him.
Amsterdam’s team designed and implemented a broad international strategy to fight back against the government’s illegal detention of Cedeño without trial. Working closely with Venezuelan counsel, Amsterdam’s investigation revealed new evidence and secured key whistleblower testimonies proving the client’s innocence. The team identified a number of actions and venues to pursue on behalf of Cedeño in foreign jurisdictions, while opening up numerous political backchannels to increase pressure on the state.
The firm approached a unique strategy in accomplishing this, focusing less on entities in the United States, while placing a stronger emphasis on advancing the case among regional leadership such as Brazil. Over the course of numerous trips to Brasilia, Amsterdam secured meetings with the President of the Brazilian Senate, resulting in key official statements on the case.
Amsterdam’s team published a widely discussed white paper highlighting the unlawful treatment of Mr. Cedeño, establishing the case as an emblematic example of the wider erosion of rule of law and human rights taking place in the country. The firm met with and briefed numerous foreign governments and multilateral institutions including the Organization of American States (OAS), the International Commission of Jurists, and the United Nations, among others.
Thanks to engagement with a United Nations special working group on arbitrary detention, the organization produced an independent key opinion on the illegality of Cedeño’s detention, which was eventually cited by a judge who ordered his release from prison.
Following a dramatic escape from Venezuela (the judge who freed him was herself jailed), the firm then assisted with Cedeño’s successful application for political asylum in the United States.