Prosecutor Requests Arrest Warrant for Opposition Mayor on Corruption Charges
A special investigative commission led by National Assembly Legislator Mario Isea presented evidence to the Attorney General's office last December that Rosales channeled public funds into private bank accounts, hoarded land in the name of front persons, and granted public contracts to fraudulent companies including the local lottery.
"In accordance with the evidence presented to the Attorney General's office by prosecutors, we are soliciting the arrest warrant, and now the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to approve the warrant," said Plaza, who is based in Maracaibo.
Plaza said Rosales's preliminary hearing is scheduled to take place within twenty days, and that Rosales could face between three and ten years in prison if convicted of violating Article 73 and Article 46 of the Anti-Corruption Law on 26 accounts.
The investigation of Rosales is perhaps the highest profile anti-corruption case to date. Rosales participated in the two-day coup against President Hugo Chávez in April 2002 by signing the decree that dissolved the Constitution, but he did not serve jail time. He later ran as the principal opposition candidate against Chávez in the 2006 presidential election and lost 63 to 36%.
In a press conference Thursday, Rosales accused the Chávez administration of attempting to "crush political dissent" by arbitrarily targeting him for arrest. "This is not an act of the Attorney General, this is an order from Chávez," said Rosales. "We all know that the separation of powers does not work in Venezuela."
Rosales also called Chávez a "coward" and a "cry baby," and said he and his lawyers plan to "confront [Chávez] on all terrains."
Following the announcement of the arrest warrant, a rowdy group of Rosales supporters gathered in downtown Maracaibo and surrounded reporters from the state television station VTV, yelling obscenities and telling the reporters to "get out of Zulia."
The political climate in Zulia has also intensified recently with regard to a related effort by the national government to weaken corrupt local officials and combat drug trafficking. Last week, the National Assembly reformed the Law on Decentralization to allow the national government to recuperate control of ports, airports, and highways that weak state governments have allowed to fall under control of criminal mafias, according to government officials.
In response to this measure, the Zulia state legislature declared itself in a state of emergency this week and vowed not to allow the national government to take over the Port of Maracaibo.
In light of this, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz announced Friday that Rosales's trial may by moved to a court outside of Zulia state in the case of violence or other such alterations to the public order that could affect the fairness of the trial.
While campaigning for local candidates last November, Chávez had warned of a festering secessionist movement led by opposition forces in Zulia, the state which produces more than a third of Venezuela's daily oil exports.
In the wake of the violent protests by U.S.-backed separatists in the eastern provinces of Bolivia last May, several members of the Zulia state legislature had proposed a feasibility study for further autonomy from the central government.
Published on Mar 20th 2009 at 11.39pm
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