Venezuela opposition politician to face crime charges

Venezuela on Saturday ordered opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez and his mother to show up at the prosecutor's office to face charges for "presumed irregularities" dating from 1998.

Lopez, 41, and his mother 66 year-old Antonieta Mendoza de Lopez, are accused of "presumed irregularities" concerning donations made by the state-run Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to the Civil Association Justice First, a group that Lopez founded. The group became a political party in 2000.

Both have been ordered to appear at the prosecutor's office to be charged, the prosecution said in a statement, without detailing the charges.

Lopez, a charismatic politician with a winning smile, has led the center-right Popular Will party since 2009.

In 2005, the office of the Comptroller General accused him of corruption and banned him from politics until 2014 for allegedly receiving illegal money from PDVSA and swindling money when he was mayor of the wealthy Caracas neighborhood of Cachao.

The cases were never brought to trial, and the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) declared the Venezuelan ruling invalid.

Lopez was a top contender to run as the candidate for the unified opposition in the 2012 presidential election, but bowed out in favor of Henrique Capriles, who shares Lopez's telenovela-star looks. President Hugo Chavez defeated Capriles in the October presidential election.

The National Assembly, controlled by Chavez loyalists, opened a corruption probe on February 6 into two members of the Capriles' Justice First party, accusing them of illegally accepting campaign donations without reporting them.

Chavez is in Cuba recovering from a fourth round of cancer surgery.

The move against Lopez appears to be part of a concerted government campaign against the opposition: on Saturday Vice President Nicolas Maduro on state TV accused government critics in the "corrupt right" and "parasitic bourgeoisie" of plotting "a silent coup."

Maduro had earlier said that Capriles and another opposition leader, Gerardo Blyde, would be responsible for "any act of violence" in an ongoing student protest outside the Cuban embassy decrying the influence of Havana's communist regime in Venezuela.