Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela mayor arrested over corruption allegations

Venezuelan map

The mayor of Venezuela's third largest city, Valencia, has been detained over accusations of corruption.

Edgardo Parra, a member of the governing socialist party, his son and two other people are accused of extortion and money laundering.

President Nicolas Maduro has been stepping up his campaign against corruption.

Congress is expected this week to grant Mr Maduro special powers to accelerate his anti-corruption drive.

But the opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, has dismissed as "political pantomime".

Mr Parra was arrested on Saturday and is expected to appear before a court on Monday.

Investigators apprehended vehicles, money in cash and documents, local media reported.

'Parallel office'

"We have enough details to believe that a number of acts of corruption have been committed by the mayor, his son and two other people who find themselves arrested," the Minister of Internal Affairs, Justice and Peace, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, told reporters.

The authorities accuse Mr Parra and his group of running a "sort of parallel office", which used a number of cooperatives and companies to deviate and launder official funds.

The investigations were run by Venezuela's intelligence agency, Sebin.

"We will not protect anyone who commits a crime involving public funds, which are sacred because they are the people's money. There are no untouchables here," Francisco Ameliach, the governor of Carabobo state and another member of the ruling party, told state media.

Meanwhile, Venezuela's Congress is expected later this week to grant President Maduro the powers to govern by decree for a year.

The successor of former President Hugo Chavez has been seeking the change saying it is needed for him to stamp out corruption in the country, as well as what he called economic sabotage.

But the opposition says only low-level officials have been arrested and fears the new powers will be used against them.

"How dare you tell us you'll fight corruption, when the people guilty of stealing public funds are exactly the same ones you chose to govern with you?" Mr Capriles wrote.

Venezuela recorded the highest inflation in Latin America and is experiencing slow economic growth and basic products shortages, despite boasting the world's largest oil reserves.

A power cut last month left more than two-thirds of the country without electricity.

Finance Minister Nelson Merentes has conceded that while the social-oriented policies of Mr Chavez may have improved the living standards of many Venezuelans, they did not solve the "structural problems" of the economy.

Hugo Chavez died of cancer in March after 14 years in power.

His vice-president and handpicked successor, Mr Maduro, has pledged to continue his policies but does not command the same support enjoyed by Mr Chavez.

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