Spain: 2 linked with late Venezuelan president detained
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Spanish authorities acknowledged on Wednesday that a married couple with links to Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez has been arrested in a case of suspected corruption in their home country.
Officials in Madrid said they detained the pair at Venezuela’s request.
The two are Claudia Diaz, a one-time nurse of Chavez who later climbed the ranks at the National Treasury to head the country’s accounts from 2011 to 2013 and also was named secretary of the National Development Fund, and her husband, Adrian Velasquez Figueroa, a former member of the presidential palace’s security detail.
Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab had announced the arrests in early April, but officials in Spain at first denied it.
Venezuelan officials are seeking them on suspicion of corruption revealed in the Panama Papers — a huge document leak from a Panamanian law firm that put a spotlight on how the rich and powerful hide their fortunes.
“We understand that Venezuela accuses them of money laundering, but that is not totally clear,” said Manuel Varela, a U.S. lawyer for the couple. He called the allegations against his clients a “political persecution that has been going on for years.”
Varela disputed that Diaz ever served with the National Development Fund, a body that for years received billions of dollars from “surplus” international reserves with the purpose of launching the government’s socialist programs.
Venezuelan officials announced a decision late last year to reopen a wide investigation stemming from the Panama Papers.
Saab said the couple was being investigated in the case along with Eudomario Carruyo, former vice president of finance at the state-run oil company PDVSA, and retired Gen. Victor Cruz Weffer, a former army commander who was arrested in Venezuela last month.
A Spanish judge is expected to hold a hearing Thursday on the married couple’s possible extradition to Venezuela.