Venezuela: 5 arrested on money laundering charges

April 24, 2012 - 10:56 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's top security official announced the arrests of five people on charges of money laundering and said Tuesday that there are suspicions some opposition politicians were involved in the scheme.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said the dismantled money-laundering ring handled cash operations involving as much as $10 million.

"This ring operated in several of the country's states and it used various businesses and people as a front," El Aissami said at a news conference.

He said several fly-by-night businesses, including a construction company, were involved in the scheme.

Investigators believe two opposition politicians, Carabobo Gov. Henrique Salas Feo and Nueva Esparta Gov. Morel Rodriguez, maintained ties to the ring of money launderers through some of the businesses, El Aissami said.

Salas Feo dismissed the accusation on his Twitter account, calling if part of a "dirty war" to try to distract from accusations made against government officials by former Supreme Court Magistrate Eladio Aponte.

Aponte, who recently left the country after being removed by lawmakers for alleged links to a drug suspect, said in a television interview shown last week that government and military officials manipulated cases and that some officials have ties to drug trafficking. Salas Feo said in a Twitter message that El Aissami's accusations aim to "cover up the corruption."

Rodriguez called the justice minister's remarks irresponsible, saying in a statement that President Hugo Chavez is trying to distract attention from the scandal unleashed by Aponte's accusations. Rodriguez called the justice minister's allegations "absurd and reckless."

El Aissami said much of the laundered money came from drug trafficking profits.

Venezuela is a major hub for gangs that smuggle Colombian cocaine, and U.S. officials have accused Chavez's government of failing to effectively fight drug trafficking. Venezuelan officials deny those accusations, saying their anti-drug efforts are increasingly successful.