Prosecutor Requests Arrest Warrant for Opposition Mayor on Corruption Charges

Venezuelan prosecutor Katuiska
Plaza has asked the Attorney General's office to issue an arrest warrant for
Manuel Rosales, the former governor of Zulia state and recently elected mayor
of Maracaibo, on charges of illicit self-enrichment with public funds.

By James Suggett - Venezuelanalysis.com

ABN-19-03-2009_Plaza_Rosales_arrest_warrant.jpg

Public Attorney Katuiska Plaza solicited an arrest warrant for Manuel Rosales on corruption charges Thursday. (ABN)
Public Attorney Katuiska Plaza solicited an arrest warrant for Manuel Rosales on corruption charges Thursday. (ABN)
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Mérida,
March 20th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan prosecutor Katuiska
Plaza has asked the Attorney General's office to issue an arrest warrant for
Manuel Rosales, the former governor of Zulia state and recently elected mayor
of Maracaibo, on charges of illicit self-enrichment with public funds.

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.