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Venezuela's president said a Miami judge is likely to issue a warrant for his arrest
06-18-2010, 12:56 AM,
#1
Venezuela's president said a Miami judge is likely to issue a warrant for his arrest

Chávez Expects Arrest Warrant


Venezuela's president said a Miami judge is likely to issue a warrant for his arrest in a money-laundering case.

BY GERARDO REYES AND CASTO OCANDO
greyes@elnuevoherald.com

June 17, 2010 "Miami Herald" -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said the U.S. government could be preparing an arrest warrant against him and some of his collaborators in a money-laundering case being processed at a federal court in Miami.

Citing the name of the federal judge overseeing the process, Joan Lenard, and other facts about the case, Chávez warned at a cabinet meeting Thursday night that it shouldn't surprise anyone if she issues a warrant for his arrest.

``Don't be surprised if it's released tomorrow that Chávez is the one laundering money and, therefore, Judge Lenard is ordering his arrest,'' he said, adding that warrants may also be issued to arrest vice president Elías Jaua and the minister of Planning and Finance, Jorge Giordiani.

``This is a high-level operation, which is why I am alerting the people!'' Chávez warned in the meeting, broadcast on state television station Venezolana de Televisión.

Chávez was referring to an operation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement revealed in April, in which 15 people were arrested, most of them Venezuelan, under suspicion of laundering drug-trafficking money.

Lenard is the judge in the case.

As published by El Nuevo Herald at the time, the group was involved in transferring drug-trafficking cash from Puerto Rico and New York to South Florida. Members of the organization deposited the money in different bank accounts in the United States under the names of people who have not been identified.

Another part of the money was converted into bolívares through Venezuelan intermediaries.

The suspects were followed and their conversations taped. As a result, the U.S. government now has in its possession voluminous material evidence, consisting of 55 videos, 2,000 recordings, 48,000 document pages and 648 draft transcripts, according to a memorandum by South Florida's deputy District Attorney Juan Antonio González, Jr.

Some of the intercepted calls were made to financial institutions not identified in the court documents. Part of the material evidence has already been delivered to defense attorneys in 11 DVDs and four CDs, according to González.

The District Attorney's spokeswoman, Alicia Valle, said that they will not comment on Chávez's words.

Juan Diego Berrío, Miami attorney of the Venezuelan businesswoman Alba Villalobos, who has been charged in the operation, told El Nuevo Herald that he has no knowledge that Chávez or any of his collaborators have been linked to the alleged operation.

``I don't know anything about that,'' Berrío said. ``We're waiting for all the evidence.''

In his speech Thursday, Chávez said that the possible revelation of links with his government of the money-laundering network captured in Miami is part of a plan to attack his administration, and said that Lenard is the same judge in the case of five Cubans accused of spying.

``Do not be surprised that an aggression is in the works here against the Venezuelan government to charge me and who knows how many other ministers of trafficking and money laundering instead of the real culprits,'' he said.

Chávez ordered foreign minister Nicolás Maduro to ask the United States for information about the accused Venezuelans, and asked his attorney general and the Ministry of Interior and Justice to probe their financial operations.
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