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Venezuela calls for arrest of TV channel owner

June 18, 2010

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CARACAS, Venezuela—Venezuela on Friday called for the capture of a government opponent who owns a critical television channel and who recently fled the country after authorities sought to arrest him.

The government put out an international request for Guillermo Zuloaga's capture through Interpol, Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said.

Zuloaga is the majority owner of Globovision, the country's only remaining channel that takes a critical line against President Hugo Chavez.

Authorities believe Zuloaga is in Miami, along with Nelson Mezerhane, who owns a minority stake in Globovision, El Aissami said.

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 has called the charges bogus and an attempt to intimidate him and silence Globovision.

Mezerhane was already in Florida when banking regulators seized control of his bank, Banco Federal, on Monday citing major financial problems. Mezerhane condemned the bank takeover as political retribution against him and Globovision.

"They flee, they go away, of course," El Aissami said. "In Miami -- where Mr. Zuloaga is, where Mr. Mezerhane is -- they have the necessary conditions of complicity and impunity."

Chavez has warned that the government could take over Mezerhane's minority stake in Globovision while seizing his assets.

There was little activity in the case against Zuloaga for months until Chavez recently lamented that the businessman remained free while awaiting trial. A week later, prosecutors announced the arrest order.

Frank La Rue, the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression, urged Venezuelan authorities to withdraw the arrest warrants. "This latest act of harassment against Mr. Zuloaga is symptomatic of the continuous deterioration of freedom of the press in the country," he said in a statement.

Supreme Court President Luisa Morales said international bodies should respect each country's justice system.

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