CARACAS A veteran Venezuelan crossword-writer has been accused of hiding a coded message to assassinate President Hugo Chavez's brother in the latest surreal twist to election year politics in the South American nation.
Neptali Segovia was interviewed by intelligence agents, his newspaper said on Friday, after a state TV pundit said he had disguised a message to gun down Chavez's brother, Adan, in the answers to various clues in a crossword this week.
"These sorts of messages were used a lot in World War Two," the pundit, Perez Pirela, said earlier in the week in a dramatic denouncement of Ultimas Noticias newspaper on live television.
Segovia has denied any subversive intentions.
While causing laughter in some circles, the case also shows the dangerously polarized environment in Venezuela, where the socialist Chavez has been accusing opposition leaders of planning violence in the run-up to an October presidential vote.
Mystery over cancer-stricken Chavez's condition has only heightened the nervous atmosphere in Venezuela.
The pugnacious Pirela, who uses an early evening TV show to lay into Chavez opponents, said a group of mathematicians, psychologists and others had studied the Spanish-language crossword and concluded it was a coded assassination plot.
Answers to clues included "Adan", "asesinen" (meaning "kill") and "rafaga" (which can mean either a burst of gunfire, or a gust of wind).
LIKE DE GAULLE?
"It's a message ... I'm speaking in the name of truth," Pirela added, noting how French leader Charles de Gaulle used to broadcast coded messages from London to Resistance fighters in France during World War Two.
Police were not available for comment.
But Ultimas Noticias said six officers from Venezuela's intelligence service had visited the newspaper's editorial offices on Thursday asking for information about Segovia.
After that, he went voluntarily to the intelligence service's headquarters to give a statement, it said.
"I am the first to want to clarify this. I have nothing to hide because the work I have been doing for the last 17 years has only a cultural and education intention, and is transparent," Segovia was quoted as saying.
"I was treated respectfully. They took down my comments and made a routine summary. Then they took me home."
Another newspaper, the militantly pro-opposition Tal Cual, lampooned the Chavez government on Friday with a front-page crossword highlighting the nation's ills.
Clues included: "What officials do when they misuse public funds" (Corruption); Perhaps the most abused law? (Constitution); and "Name of supreme leader who governs our destiny? Bearded." (Fidel Castro).
(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Anthony Boadle)