Chavez: Venezuela looks to seize banker's assets
CARACAS, Venezuela—Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday said his government is looking to seize the assets of an opponent whose bank was taken over by regulators, and warned that might include his minority ownership stake in an anti-government television channel.
Chavez suggested that bank owner Nelson Mezerhane, who is in the United States, will owe the government to recoup losses after officials took over management of Banco Federal, which he said is broke.
"Now I'm finding out about all the businesses these people own," Chavez said in a speech to graduating doctors, saying that the government is to start seizing more properties such as apartments or other properties "if the owners of the bank don't show up."
He mentioned that among Mezerhane's assets are shares in Globovision -- the country's only TV channel that takes an anti-Chavez line.
"He should get on a plane to come show his face," Chavez said of Mezerhane, who was in Florida at the time banking regulators seized control of his bank on Monday.
Mezerhane has said he has no plans to return to Venezuela for now. He has condemned the bank takeover as political retribution against him and Globovision, saying the bank was in sound financial shape but the government had been pressuring him and had withdrawn large deposits to try to undermine the bank.
Chavez said government authorities also want to discuss the issue with Globovision's majority owner Guillermo Zuloaga, who fled the country after an order for his arrest was issued in a separate case.
"If that's true that the banker who left and said he's not going to return has some shares in Globovision, well Mr. Zuloaga is going to have to appear for us to reach an understanding," Chavez said, without elaborating. "If they don't have anything to fear, let them appear and respond before the courts."
Zuloaga's whereabouts were not immediately clear.
Chavez has often accused Globovision of conspiring against him and trying to undermine his government. He has denied holding sway over prosecutors who have brought charges against Zuloaga, or over officials who seized control of the bank.
A court last week issued an arrest warrant for Zuloaga and one of his sons. Prosecutors want Zuloaga jailed while he awaits trial on charges of usury and conspiracy for keeping 24 new vehicles stored at a home he owns.
Zuloaga, who also owns several car dealerships, has called the charges bogus and says prosecutors are acting on orders from Chavez.