By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS (Reuters) - Socialist Party legislators on Wednesday asked state prosecutors to investigate Venezuela's billionaire businessman Lorenzo Mendoza and Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann for alleged crimes including "treason."
State media last week broadcast a private conversation between the pair in which Hausmann insists Venezuela's crisis-hit economy will need an International Monetary Fund (IMF) intervention to the tune of $40 billion to $50 billion.
Officials including President Nicolas Maduro have denounced that as proof of conspiracy by capitalist figure heads intent on ending 16 years of socialism in the South American OPEC nation.
The government is taking an increasingly intolerant line against foes, including jailing opposition leaders, in the run-up to a December parliamentary election.
"The sovereignty, peace and independence of the Republic is at risk, that's why we are asking the Public Prosecutor's Office to investigate," said Pedro Carreno, head of the ruling party's parliamentary bloc.
Waving copies of papers he presented at the prosecutor's office, Carreno said Mendoza and Hausmann should be investigated for possible usurpation of presidential functions, treason and planning to commit crimes.
Mendoza, 50, who heads Polar, Venezuela's largest private company, complained last week that a private call was illegally recorded and saying it was normal for him to exchange views with economists of all ilk.
"I totally reject the attempts to manipulate public opinion," he said in a letter to Venezuelans.
Hausmann, a Venezuelan minister in the 1990s who is now a professor at Harvard University in the United States, said Wednesday's accusations proved the government's dictatorial nature.
"I declare myself guilty of speaking to the IMF, something I have been doing for 32 years. Their website shows 518 mentions of me. I declare myself guilty of putting together a team to think of an alternative policy that can rescue Venezuela from its current catastrophe," he wrote in an email.
"This all shows that we are dealing with a rogue state."
The ruling Socialist Party, which currently controls the National Assembly but could lose it to the opposition in Dec. 6 elections, said 101 legislators had backed a petition for the pair to be prosecuted.
Venezuela's recession, product shortages, currency collapse and highest inflation in the world are weighing on Maduro's popularity ahead of the vote. He blames political foes and capitalist speculators for an "economic war."
Mendoza's Polar makes Venezuela's top-selling beerand the favored brand of corn flour used for making traditional "arepa" corn pancakes.
(Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Jeffrey Benkoe)