Ex-Venezuela parliament head sues News Corp over drug article

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The former head of Venezuela’s National Assembly filed a lawsuit on Thursday accusing the Wall Street Journal of libeling him in an article in which it was reported that he was the target of a U.S. drug trafficking probe.

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Diosdado Cabello filed the lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against News Corp, the newspaper’s owner, and alleged that the May 2015 article contained “false and defamatory allegations” that he was involved in criminal activities related to drug trafficking and money laundering.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from News Corp and its Dow Jones subsidiary, which was also named as a defendant.

Dow Jones spokeswoman Colleen Schwartz said in a statement that it would “vigorously defend” itself against the lawsuit and that it had “full confidence in the rigor and accuracy of our reporting.”

According to the lawsuit, the story has caused “enormous damage to Mr. Cabello’s reputation and good name, both personally and in his capacity as a key member of Venezuela’s National Assembly.”

The lawsuit comes as U.S. authorities including federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration investigate to what if any extent Venezuelan officials have facilitated drug trafficking.

In the article of May 18, 2015, headlined “Venezuelan Officials Suspected of Turning Country into Global Cocaine Hub,” the Wall Street Journal reported that Cabello was a leading target in the investigations.

Cabello, the No. 2 figure in Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party, is a member of the country’s National Assembly, which he presided over from January 2012 to January 2016.

Cabello has repeatedly denied any involvement in Venezuela’s drug trade, and told Venezuela’s parliament last year that “it would never occur to us to get involved in something that would hurt young people.”

In his lawsuit, Cabello said the newspaper had inaccurately represented quotes from unnamed sources and falsely stated that he was the probe’s “biggest target.”

The case is Cabello-Rondon v. Dow Jones & Company, Inc, et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-03346.

Editing by Noeleen Walder and Matthew Lewis