CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela issued an arrest warrant and raided the home of the president of an opposition TV news station on Friday, as the government kept up pressure on prominent critics of President Hugo Chavez.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega said station chief Guillermo Zuloaga was wanted for “usury” after he was accused of illegally storing new vehicles for speculative purposes in 2009, charges he says are politically motivated.
The network, Globovision, ran images of police looking for Zuloaga in his house. He was not home and was not arrested.
“It is an order to apprehend him. Although they do not have the right to enter the house, we have no objection to them doing so,” said his lawyer, Perla Jaimes. Zuloaga’s son was also named in the warrant.
Zuloaga was detained for a few hours in March after criticizing Chavez’s government at a media executives’ conference in Aruba. The attorney general said then he was being investigated for possible crimes of giving false information and offending the president.
The warrant is linked to a 2009 case in which Zuloaga was accused of “illegally storing” 24 new Toyota vehicles to manipulate prices.
Globovision is often described as operating like an opposition political party, offering outspoken criticism of Chavez as well as a venue for politicians to gain exposure.
The station is the last of Venezuela’s main channels to hold its editorial line. One station, RCTV, was pulled from the air in 2007 when Chavez refused to renew its concession after its support for a short-lived coup against him in 2002. Other networks toned down their opposition after the coup to avoid reprisals.
The government has brought several legal cases against opposition politicians, prompting some to flee the country.
One Chavez critic, veteran politician Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, spent several weeks in jail this year after accusing the government of having links to Colombian FARC rebels on a talk show.
Chavez has also been criticized by rights groups for the imprisonment since December of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, on charges she illegally released a banker charged with fraud.
Chavez’s traditionally high popularity has waned this year as Venezuelans endure a recession and the impact of a severe electricity crisis. But while the opposition senses an opportunity to hurt him in legislative elections in September, most analysts expect Chavez to retain his majority.
Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Peter Cooney