Dec 3, 2014 4:57 PM

Venezuela charges ex-lawmaker in alleged coup plot

The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) A leading opposition figure learned Wednesday she will face criminal charges alleging involvement in a purported plot to kill President Nicolas Maduro, a move she called an attempt to silence her and other critics of Venezuela's government.

Maria Corina Machado, a former member of the National Assembly, left a private meeting with prosecutors at the Ministry of Justice after authorities informed her that she would be charged with conspiracy. The charge carries a maximum of 16 years in prison.

Her case will now be assigned to a judge so Machado can be formally charged.

"All the accusations and the supposed evidence are false," she told reporters outside the ministry.

Machado has repeatedly said she has no knowledge of any plot against Maduro and portrays the allegations as political persecution.

"I have not committed any crime," she said before the meeting with prosecutors. "This is the price I have to pay for speaking the truth in Venezuela."

The attorney general's office opened its investigation in March after officials claimed a plot was being formed against Maduro and others in the government involving Machado and several other opposition figures. Authorities have not provided any evidence publicly beyond some allegedly incriminating emails. The government has prohibited Machado from leaving the country since June.

Tomas Arias, one of her lead attorneys, said the defense had asked for more specific proof of any link between Machado and what he called the "supposed plot" against the president. Authorities have provided nothing in response, he said.

Prosecutors have issued arrest orders for several other opposition figures for their alleged roles in the supposed plot, several of whom have left Venezuela.

Since narrowly winning election last year to succeed his mentor, the late President Hugo Chavez, Maduro has claimed there have been five assassination attempts against him and more than a dozen acts of sabotage and conspiracy.

The investigation of Machado comes as oil-dependent Venezuela comes under increasing financial strain because of plunging world oil prices, forcing the government to cut spending amid widespread shortages and the world's highest inflation.


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