Chavez opponent charged with influence peddling

AP News
Posted: Feb 28, 2013 3:07 PM
Chavez opponent charged with influence peddling

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan prosecutors on Thursday brought influence peddling charges against Leopoldo Lopez, a prominent opponent of President Hugo Chavez.

Prosecutors say Lopez accepted donations from Venezuela's state-run oil company in 1998. The donations were purportedly authorized by the politician's mother, Antonietta Mendoza de Lopez, when she was working for Petroleos de Venezuela SA.

Lopez allegedly used the donations to form First Justice, an organization that later became one of Venezuela's most popular political parties.

Lopez denies any wrongdoing and has not yet been arrested.

His mother also is expected to be arraigned on criminal charges.

If Lopez and his mother go to trial and are convicted, they could face two to four years in prison, according to the prosecutor's office.

Lopez, who claims the charges are politically motivated, arrived at the Prosecutor's Office along with dozens of supporters chanting, "We have no fear!"

"I don't believe in Venezuela's justice system," Lopez told a group of reporter before entering the building. "I'm here to give testimony, to give testimony that I'm not scared."

Lopez said he believes that Vice President Nicolas Maduro pressured prosecutors to bring the charges.

The charges against Lopez come amid what many Chavez foes perceive as an effort by the president's allies to crack down on dissidence.

Earlier this month, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello accused three lawmakers from the First Justice party of involvement in acts of corruption and suggested they should face criminal charges.

The opposition lawmakers deny any wrongdoing.