October 26, 2018 / 5:28 PM / 20 days ago

Spain's High Court agrees to extradite member of Chavez's inner circle in fraud case

MADRID, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Spain’s High Court agreed on Friday to extradite a Venezuelan woman who was part of the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s inner circle to her home country where she is suspected of money laundering and illicit enrichment.

According to Venezuelan media, Claudia Patricia Diaz Guillen was Chavez’s nurse during his treatment for cancer, which ultimately led to his death in 2013, while her husband served as one of his aides de camp.

From 2011 until 2013, Diaz Guillen also served as an executive of government fund Fonden - an obscure state-run investment fund which received more than $100 billion in state revenue but produced little if any documentation as to how the funds were spent.

The court said in a statement that Diaz Guillen is suspected of having used Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca for the creation of companies through which she acquired illicit assets in Venezuela and abroad, in a case linked to the “Panama Papers”.

Both Diaz Guillen and her husband’s names surfaced in the Panama Papers — millions of documents from Mossack Fonseca which were published by the media in April 2016 and which show how the rich and powerful used offshore corporations to evade taxes.

When Diaz Guillen was detained in Spain in April, Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor Tarek Saab wrote on Twitter that his office had requested her arrest due to her appearance in the Panama Papers.

A spokesman for Saab’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the extradition.

According to the statement by the High Court, Diaz Guillen claims the case is politically motivated due to her opposition to the current Venezuela government. The court dismissed this explanation, saying there was no indication that the case against her was motivated by her political ideas.

The court’s decision, which may be appealed, must now be ratified by the Spanish government.

It is not clear whether Fonden funds were implicated in the alleged money laundering.

A 2012 Reuters investigation found that Fonden ploughed hundreds of millions of dollars into state-run factories that were never completed and have never produced anything. [reut.rs/2SjxAkR ]

Human rights groups and Venezuela’s opposition accuse Maduro of holding hundreds of critics of his administration in harsh conditions to stifle dissent. Maduro’s government denies it holds political prisoners. (Reporting by Paul Day Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Luc Cohen in Caracas Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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