New dispute over ex-Venezuelan president's assets

AP News
Posted: Feb 22, 2011 4:58 PM
New dispute over ex-Venezuelan president's assets

A new dispute erupted Tuesday among the family members who have been fighting for two months over where to bury former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, this time over his assets, historical documents and other possessions.

Perez's estranged wife, Blanca Rodriguez de Perez, and his longtime mistress, Cecilia Matos, have been arguing over whether he should be buried in Venezuela or the U.S. Perez died in Miami on Dec. 25 at age 88.

The new dispute involves items ranging from presidential papers to Persian rugs that Juan Antunez, attorney for the estranged wife, contends were moved to a warehouse in violation of a judge's order that they be left undisturbed.

"In my opinion, this was done to hide (Venezuelan) state assets. We think it's very suspicious," Antunez said.

Circuit Judge Arthur Rothenberg previously appointed a curator to inventory the items. Perez was Venezuela's president from 1974-79 and 1989-93.

Matos attorney Martin Feldman said the items were moved only for safekeeping and to guard against their possibly being stolen by agents for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a bitter political foe of Perez.

Feldman said the FBI had been notified about relocation of the items, which also include art work, gifts from other world leaders and Perez's sash from his 1989 inauguration as president.

"Moving assets isn't the issue. Hiding assets is the issue, and there's no evidence of that," Feldman said.

Still undecided Tuesday morning was the issue of temporarily interring Perez's remains in an above-ground crypt to allow time to decide the feud between Rodriguez de Perez and Matos over his body's final resting place. A court spokeswoman said Rothenberg planned to issue an order regarding the temporary burial on Thursday or Friday.

Rodriguez de Perez contends that under Florida law, she as surviving spouse has the right to determine the final burial location because Perez left no written instructions. But Matos argues that Perez frequently said he would not return to Venezuela, even in death, so long as Chavez was president.

The two sides also disagree on the temporary burial, but Rothenberg has said leaving Perez in a funeral home refrigeration unit is undignified.

"There's absolutely no reason that body should lie in the state it is in," Feldman said.

A March 21 trial has been set on the ultimate question of where to bury the former president.