CARACAS, Venezuela—A leading opposition figure learned Wednesday she is being charged with involvement in an alleged plot to kill President Nicolas Maduro, a move she called an attempt to silence her and other critics of Venezuela’s socialist government.
Maria Corina Machado, a former member of the National Assembly, left a private meeting with prosecutors at the Prosecutor General’s Office after authorities informed her that she would be charged with conspiracy. The charge carries a maximum of 16 years in prison.
Her case will now be assigned to a judge who will formally charge Machado and decide whether she should be detained pending trial.
“All the accusations and the supposed evidence are false,” Machado told reporters.
She has repeatedly said she has no knowledge of any plot against Maduro and portrays the allegations as political persecution.
“I have not committed any crime,” she said before meeting with prosecutors. “This is the price I have to pay for speaking the truth in Venezuela.”
In Washington, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio accused Maduro’s government of subverting justice, noting that nearly all judges and prosecutors serve at the president’s discretion.
“In Venezuela, the courts are rigged, judges are government pawns and justice is impossible to achieve, which is what makes Maria Corina Machado’s indictment such a travesty,” said Rubio, a Florida Republican. “The suggestion that she participated in a plot to kill Nicolas Maduro would be laughable except for the fact that the regime is using it as the basis to indict her.”
Authorities announced the investigation last March, claiming a plot was being formed against Maduro and others in the government involving Machado and several other opposition figures. Officials have not provided any evidence publicly beyond some allegedly incriminating emails. Machado has been barred from leaving the country since June.
Tomas Arias, one of her lead attorneys, said the defense had asked for specific proof of any link between Machado and what he called the “supposed plot.” Authorities have provided nothing in response, he said.
Prosecutors have issued arrest orders for several other opposition figures for their alleged roles in the supposed plot, several of whom have left Venezuela.
Since narrowly winning election last year to succeed his mentor, the late President Hugo Chavez, Maduro has claimed five assassination attempts against him and more than a dozen acts of sabotage and conspiracy.
Oil-dependent Venezuela is under increasing financial strain because of plunging world oil prices, forcing the government to cut spending amid widespread shortages and the world’s highest inflation.
From The Associated Press