Venezuelan Opposition Leader Faces New Charges

He describes the accusations of influence peddling as "political prosecution"


Leading Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez appeared before prosecutors in Caracas on Thursday to answer charges of influence peddling while he was a state oil company employee in 1998, an accusation he described as "political persecution."

Lopez, a strong critic of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez and cofounder of the center-right Justice First party, is accused of funneling $120,000 in donations to his party from the state-owned oil monopoly PDVSA while he was a top-level employee there in the late 1990s.

His supporters say Chavistas have it in for the 41-year old Harvard graduate and former mayor of a borough in Caracas because he led anti-Chavez demonstrations prior to the April 2002 coup that briefly overthrew Chavez. Lopez was part of group that made a "citizens arrest" of then-Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin during the disturbances.