Venezuela blasts Peru for mayor’s asylum

Manuel Rosales denies that he illegally enriched himself as governor of Zulia state.
Venezuela has blasted Peru’s granting of political asylum to a Venezuelan politician wanted on corruption charges.

“Despite the amount of evidence, the Peruvian government decided to grant Manuel Rosales political asylum,” Venezuela’s government said in a statement Monday. “It’s a decision that thwarts international law, inflicts a blow to the fight against corruption and is an affront to the people of Venezuela.” Asylum was granted to Rosales — the mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela — on humanitarian grounds, Peru’s foreign minister said earlier Monday. Rosales, a leading political opponent who lost the 2006 Venezuelan presidential race to Hugo Chavez, faces charges of illegally enriching himself while governor of Zulia state. He was scheduled to turn himself in last week but instead fled to Peru. Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said that recent statements by Rosales against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were not taken into account in his asylum case, the state-run Andina news agency said. Rosales denies the corruption allegations against him, saying Chavez is persecuting him. “Since they haven’t been able to take me off the political map by the electoral route, now they’re using the power they have in all the movements of the public prosecutor,” Rosales told CNN en Español last month.

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One of Rosales’ lawyers noted that Chavez said publicly in October 2008, before Rosales was charged, that he wanted the mayor in prison. In last month’s interview, Rosales called the charges that he had illegally accepted money “totally false” and said he not only declared all of his income, but paid taxes on it. Katiuska Plaza, district attorney for Zulia state, said in a 26-count complaint last month that Rosales illegally enriched himself in 2002 and 2004. Rosales called the district attorney’s actions “a manipulation” and said the prosecutor “is acting on Chavez’s orders.” Another prominent Chavez opponent was arrested this month on corruption charges. Former Venezuelan Defense Minister Raul Baduel played a key role in turning back a coup attempt against Chavez in 2002 but broke with him in November 2007 over constitutional changes Chavez was proposing. Baduel has been a strong Chavez critic since then. Baduel, who also was the president’s military general-in-chief, was arrested at gunpoint in front of his wife April 2, the general’s attorney said at the time. It was Baduel’s second arrest on charges that he stole $14 million from the armed forces. He has denied the allegation and said last year the charges were politically motivated. And Antonio Ledezma, an opposition figure who is mayor of Caracas, is finding his powers reduced. Last week, the pro-Chavez National Assembly shifted many of his powers to the federal government. Ledezma has accused Chavez of orchestrating protests against him.