Venezuela’s high court has issued an arrest order for the ousted chief prosecutor’s husband after authorities accused him of running a six million US dollar (£4.7 million) extortion ring.

The ruling was promptly denounced by government critics as a move aimed at silencing opponents of President Nicolas Maduro.

The government-stacked Supreme Court also announced it was referring German Ferrer’s case to the new, all-powerful constitutional assembly.

The ruling was promptly denounced by government critics as a move aimed at silencing opponents of President Nicolas Maduro
The ruling was promptly denounced by government critics as a move aimed at silencing opponents of President Nicolas Maduro (Ariana Cubillos/AP)

The assembly was installed in early August at Mr Maduro’s behest following a widely criticised vote, and it is expected to proceed with lifting Mr Ferrer’s immunity from prosecution that comes with legislative office.

Mr Ferrer is a lawmaker formerly aligned with Mr Maduro’s administration who has stood by his wife, Luisa Ortega Diaz, in denouncing the assembly’s creation.

In a written statement to local media, Mr Ferrer denied signing documents that officials are holding up as evidence he opened a bank account in the Bahamas to facilitate transactions.

“This government no longer has any limits or shame,” he wrote.

Tarek William Saab, who was named by the constitutional assembly to replace Ms Ortega Diaz as chief prosecutor, said on Wednesday that the alleged criminal ring extorted money from people including businessmen in the nation’s oil industry in return for protecting them from prosecution.

Tarek William Saab said the alleged criminal ring extorted money from people including businessmen
Tarek William Saab said the alleged criminal ring extorted money from people including businessmen (Ariana Cubillos/AP)

Ruling socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello provided prosecutors with papers allegedly showing that Mr Ferrer and others opened six bank accounts at the Bahamas branch of a Swiss bank.

In his statement, Mr Ferrer said the documents “don’t pass muster”.

Mr Cabello’s involvement in the case led many to conclude it is politically motivated.

Opposition lawmaker Henry Allup questioned the timing of the charges, asking why they appeared so soon after Mr Ferrer broke publicly with Mr Maduro’s government.

“This is a way to intimidate,” he said.

Mr Ferrer and Ms Ortega’s whereabouts on Thursday were not clear. Authorities raided their home the previous day.

It's not clear where Luisa Ortega Diaz or German Ferrer are
It’s not clear where Luisa Ortega Diaz or German Ferrer are (Wil Riera/AP)

The constitutional assembly, which is tasked with rewriting the nation’s charter and trumps all other branches of government, has been condemned by dozens of foreign nations which refuse to recognise it.

Mr Maduro did not hold a referendum asking Venezuelans to approve the formation of the assembly, instead going directly to the National Electoral Council to schedule a vote for its members that was boycotted by the opposition.

International voting technology firm Smartmatic, which provided the voting machines for the election, announced shortly after the vote that the government’s official turnout count was off by at least one million.

The government-stacked electoral council is now proceeding with regional elections scheduled for October.

Council president Tibisay Lucena announced on Wednesday that the government was breaking with Smartmatic for future elections.