- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

CARACAS, VENEZUELA (AP) - A Venezuelan prosecutor on Thursday called for the arrest of a prominent political opponent of President Hugo Chavez on a corruption charge.

Manuel Rosales has been accused of “illegal enrichment” while he was Zulia state governor between 2002 and 2004, prosecutor Katiuska Plaza said.

Rosales, currently the mayor of Maracaibo, maintains he is innocent and said the accusations against him are politically motivated.

“It’s an order from Chavez,” Rosales told reporters Thursday.

“They want to silence me. They want to wipe me out of politics.”

The attorney general’s office said in a statement that the case against Rosales is based on a 2007 report by the country’s comptroller general, the leading anti-corruption authority. It said the report concluded that Rosales has received funds “he could not justify.”

The opposition politician ran against Chavez in 2006 and was defeated. But he unseated a Chavez ally in November to take over as mayor in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city.

Plaza said she requested Rosales’ arrest while he awaits trial based on the evidence against him.

Chavez strongly criticized Rosales during the mayoral campaign last year, accusing him of being a “thief” and warned he could be jailed. Following the president’s remarks, the National Assembly opened an investigation against Rosales.

Rosales previously attended an arraignment to face corruption charges in December.

A court must give its approval for Rosales’ to be arrested, and the prosecutor said she expected the court would decide within 20 days.

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