An arrest warrant has been issued by authorities in Venezuela for the head of the only remaining independent television station critical of the country’s president, Hugo Chavez.
According to legal officials, Guillermo Zuloaga, the president of Globovision (photo, from aljazeera.net), and his son, also named Guillermo, were wanted on several charges including conspiracy and business malpractice.
Zuloaga has denied any wrongdoing and said the charges were trumped up in an attempt to intimidate him.
Members of Venezuela’s intelligence service arrived on Friday at a home owned by Zuloaga, but neither he nor his son were in the building.
Attorney-General Luisa Ortega told reporters that the arrest warrant was related to a May 2009 case in which Zuloaga was accused of illegally storing 24 vehicles.
In March, Zuloaga was arrested for statements he made in the Dutch island of Aruba, and charged with the crime of offending Chavez and spreading false information.
He was also ordered not to leave the country by a Caracas court.
A week before the new arrest warrant, Chavez publicly lamented that Zuloaga remained free.
“They caught that man with a bunch of cars in his house and that’s a crime – hoarding. And he’s free and he has a television channel,” the Venezuelan leader said in a televised speech.
He called it a case of “structural weakness” in Venezuela’s legal system.
Zuloaga, who also owns several car dealerships, has said he was storing the cars on his property for safekeeping because one of his dealerships had been robbed.
The warrant was condemned as an attempt at political persecution in a statement, by the head of Venezuela’s press association .
“Once again it’s been shown that in Venezuela there’s no independence of powers, an essential value of democracy, since the judicial branch seems to act every time the president speaks or orders it,” Alejandro Aguirre said.
“It worries us that this is happening increasingly frequently.”
Globovision and other opposition media outlets have long been accused by Chavez of conspiring against him.
Since another opposition-aligned channel, RCTV, was forced off cable and satellite TV in January, Globovision has been the only anti-Chavez channel on the air.
RCTV had been booted off the open airwaves in 2007.