Sun, Apr 05, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Chavez opponent jailed pending charges

AFP , CARACAS

A former Venezuelan defense minister who resigned from President Hugo Chavez’s government to join the opposition was placed under “preventive arrest” on Friday while he is investigated for alleged corruption, his lawyer said.

Former general Raul Baduel was arrested on Thursday and released pending a hearing before a military tribunal that on Friday put him behind bars while prosecutors prepare to officially charge him in about a month, attorney Omar Mora told reporters.

“They can’t say: ‘I’ll keep this person in detention because I’ll be charging him in 30 days,’” he said. “That goes against every right and legal precept.”

Baduel told reporters his arrest was carried out on Chavez’s “express orders” and accused the president of using “the justice system and other public offices like mercenaries to intimidate” members of the opposition.

Baduel was defense minister from 2002 to 2007, after which he resigned and joined the opposition to Chavez’s leftist government.

In October Baduel was arrested and accused of withdrawing some US$14.4 million in funds belonging to the Armed Forces. Prosecutor Ernesto Cedeno said on Monday there was enough information to support the allegations.

Baduel had repeatedly stated that the charges amounted to “political persecution” because of his fierce opposition to Chavez.

Baduel and Chavez were among the army officers that began the Bolivarian Movement within the Venezuelan military in 1983.

Baduel also headed the civilian-military operation that restored Chavez to power after he was briefly ousted in a 47-hour coup in April 2002.

Mora said the case against his client is “arbitrary” and “riddled with mistakes.”

Another leading opposition leader, Maracaibo mayor Manuel Rosales, was in hiding after authorities charged him with corruption last month even though no arrest warrant has been issued against him.

The leader of Rosales’ Un Nuevo Tiempo Party, Omar Barbosa, on Tuesday accused Chavez of using police persecution, adding that the mayor “won’t turn himself over to a pack of dogs” and would remain in hiding until he was guaranteed his right to defend himself in court.

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