President Hugo Chavez said Venezuela must pursue the extradition from the United States of fugitive owners of a television channel strongly critical of his government so that they are forced to face criminal charges at home.
Chavez rejected allegations by Globovision owner Guillermo Zuloaga and minority shareholder Nelson Mezerhane, who say the increasingly authoritarian president orchestrated their prosecution as payback for the TV channel’s stinging criticism of his government.
The self-proclaimed socialist leader said he hopes officials in Washington don’t protect Zuloaga and Mezerhane.
Zuloaga’s lawyer, Jenny Tambasco, announced this week that her client will not return to Venezuela to face criminal charges that he considers politically motivated.
Tambasco spoke after Zuloaga asked the Washington-based Organization of American States for help, saying he wants its human rights commission to determine if he truly committed a crime in Venezuela.
Chavez denied that he’s behind the charges against Zuloaga and Mezerhane.
Zuloaga disappeared last month after a court issued an arrest warrant for him and one of his sons. The TV owner has not requested political asylum in the United States. Prosecutors requested his capture and extradition last month, but the Venezuelan Supreme Court has not yet approved the extradition request.
Mezerhane, who was in Florida last month, has also called the case political retribution. The TV executive and bank owner, like his associate, has said he does not plan to return to Venezuela in the near future.
Chavez also announced Thursday that his government would seize control of shares that Mezerhane holds in a nickel mine known as Loma de Niquel, a subsidiary of the London-based Anglo American mining company. Mezerhane holds 6.3 percent of Loma’s shares.
Last month, the government took over a bank owned by Mezerhane, Banco Federal, citing alleged financial problems and irregularities. And Chavez has warned that authorities may seize other assets belonging to Mezerhane to cover deposits, including the banker’s stake in Globovision.
Prosecutors want Zuloaga jailed while he awaits trial on charges of usury and conspiracy for keeping 24 new vehicles stored at a home he owns. Investigators allege that Zuloaga, who owns several car dealerships, was waiting for the vehicles’ market prices to rise, which is punishable under Venezuelan law.
Allies of Chavez have been angered by Zuloaga’s refusal to return, and disputed his claims that the country’s justice system leans in the government’s favor.
Globovision has recently been airing critical coverage of a scandal involving thousands of tons of food found beyond expiration dates and rotting in government storage. The 24-hour news station is also closely covering Colombia’s allegations that Marxist rebel leaders are allegedly hiding out in Venezuelan territory.
Globovision has been the only anti-Chavez channel on air since another channel, RCTV, was forced off cable and satellite in January. RCTV was previously booted from the open airwaves after the government refused to renew its broadcast license in 2007.
Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.
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