- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

CARACAS, VENEZUELA (AP) - Venezuelan authorities have arrested a former defense minister who is a prominent critic of President Hugo Chavez on corruption charges, a military prosecutor said Thursday.

Gen. Ernesto Cedeno told state television that the former minister, retired Gen. Raul Baduel, was arrested after a military judge overruled an order leaving Baduel free during the legal process.

Baduel denies the corruption allegations, and says he is a victim of political persecution designed to silence him.

Once a close Chavez ally, Baduel became an outspoken critic of the president in 2007, when he warned voters against a constitutional reform package that would have expanded Chavez’s power and allowed him to run for re-election indefinitely.

Voters rejected those reforms but approved a constitutional amendment in February eliminating term limits for all elected officials.

Military prosecutors first detained Baduel in October on suspicion of mismanaging government funds during his command. Prosecutors say $14.4 million belonging to the Armed Forces went missing on his watch.

Even before his arrest, Baduel was prohibited from commenting publicly on details of the case. He was forbidden from leaving the country, and was required to present himself every 15 days before a military court _ an order he “complied with faithfully,” according to his defense lawyer.

Lawyer Omar Mora Tosta told the Venezuelan television channel Globovision that Baduel had been scheduled to appear before the court on Friday, and that “there was no need for such a hasty act.”

Baduel was detained by military intelligence agents on Thursday in north-central Aragua state, Mora Tosta said.

Baduel’s wife, Cruz Maria de Baduel, told Globovision her husband was apprehended while they were driving in a family vehicle near their house.

She said the agents pushed her husband, who was wearing shorts and sandals, into a truck. One agent put a pistol to Baduel’s head and prevented him from communicating with his lawyers, she said.

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