Ally-turned-critic of Venezuela’s Chavez wanted on corruption charges

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chavez opponent faces graft charges

CARACAS, Venezuela — A Venezuelan court has issued a warrant for the arrest of an ally-turned-critic of President Hugo Chavez.

The court said Tuesday that Ramon Martinez is suspected of irregularities in a housing development project and fishing program he launched while governor of eastern Sucre state from 2000 to 2008.

A warrant was also issued for the arrest of the ex-governor’s son, Jose Diaz. Prosecutors and National Guard troops sought to arrest Martinez at his house, but the opposition politician was not there.

Martinez split with Chavez in 2007, when he refused join the president’s new ruling party.

Prosecutors have filed corruption charges in recent months against several prominent government opponents, including opposition leader Manuel Rosales, former Defense Minister Raul Baduel, opposition activist Oscar Perez and former Govs. Eduardo Manuitt and Didalco Bolivar. They argue the charges are politically motivated. Rosales, Perez and Bolivar have fled the country to seek political asylum abroad.

Chavez critics say the president is using prosecutors as pawns to bring trumped up criminal charges against his opponents, but several businessmen with links to Chavez’s government also have been implicated a banking scandal that has unfolded in recent weeks.

Science and Technology Minister Jesse Chacon resigned last week because his brother, Arne Chacon, was arrested for alleged involvement in irregularities that have forced Chavez’s administration to close seven private banks.

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