CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuelan prosecutors said Thursday they will arraign the president of an opposition television station on charges related to his car dealership business.
Prosecutors said in a statement that Guillermo Zuloaga must appear before a local court next week for unnamed crimes after authorities uncovered "presumed irregularities" at two Toyota dealerships he jointly owns.
Zuloaga also runs Globovision, Venezuela's only remaining television station on the open airwaves that stridently opposes President Hugo Chavez.
Broadcast regulators earlier this month began investigating Globovision for purportedly inciting "panic and anxiety" by criticizing the government for its slow response to a mild earthquake.
Police say they found 24 Toyota vehicles during a raid of Zuloaga's private property last week. Zuloaga said he'd stored the cars there for safekeeping because one of his dealerships had been robbed. He suggested the government was using the investigation to intimidate him.
Chavez denied allegations that the investigation is related to Globovision and called Zuloaga a "gangster."
Toyota will also need to explain what the vehicles were doing on Zuloaga's property, Chavez added.
"One presumes that the company itself is complicit," he said.
Chavez has recently stepped up verbal attacks on private news media, while the government investigations have prompted numerous human rights and press freedom groups to register their concern.
The government should guarantee the "independence and impartiality" of the investigations into Globovision and its president, said Carlos Lusverti, Amnesty International's general coordinator in Venezuela.
"What's precisely in danger ... is the right to freedom of expression and access to information," he said.
Peruvian author and former presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa, speaking about Chavez's government during a pro-democracy forum in Caracas on Thursday, said that he believes "the threat of a blackout in the area of liberties, freedom of expression and the press (in Venezuela) has increased significantly."
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