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Venezuela’s Capriles Expels Lawmaker Investigated for Graft

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Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski expelled a lawmaker who is a member of his party after a video surfaced showing him allegedly receiving bribes.

Pro-government lawmakers today presented a video that allegedly shows Juan Carlos Caldera, a lawmaker with Primero Justicia and a candidate for mayor in the Caracas municipality of Sucre, taking money from a man who wanted him to help set up a meeting with Capriles. Capriles said Caldera was expelled from his campaign and as a representative before the country’s electoral council. Phone calls to the offices of Capriles’ Primero Justicia party were not returned.

“No one has the right to use my name or that of this project we’re building for personal benefit,” Capriles said in comments broadcast on Globovision. “Given the information we have, lawmaker Juan Carlos Caldera is out of this project.”

Caldera said today in a news conference that the video was filmed at the house of shipping magnate Wilmer Ruperti, who made his fortune by helping President Hugo Chavez break a 2003 national oil strike by providing oil tankers to ship out oil. He said he received two envelopes from Ruperti’s business associate Luis Pena containing 20,000 bolivars ($4,657) each as contributions toward his campaign for mayor of Sucre.

Ruperti didn’t respond to e-mail requests for comment.

‘Very Naïve’

Saying he knows Ruperti because his sister works with him, Caldera said he’d been trapped in a sting operation by Chavez’s campaign and said he’s willing to waive his parliamentary immunity so that the case can be investigated fully. He said he understood why Capriles suspended him from the campaign.

“I was very naive,” Caldera said in comments broadcast. “I understand that there can’t be a situation that creates doubt about the involvement of Henrique Capriles. That’s why they set up this television studio with its hidden cameras.”

Diosdado Cabello, the head of the country’s National Assembly, said that parliament would investigate the case and request probes by the Attorney General and the Comptroller.

“It’s worrying what could occur in Venezuela,” Cabello said on state television. “Behind this there could be a macabre plan. Money for what? That’s the way the Venezuelan right wing works. There it is, irrefutable. Face, hand, money. Corruption.”

Capriles said the government was “desperate” to smear his name.

‘Stereotypes’

Capriles moved to expel Caldera within an hour of the video being broadcast. His swift reaction may be damaging for Capriles because makes it look like he knew beforehand about Caldera’s actions, said David Smilde, a sociologist at the University of Georgia and senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latina America.

“It fits into all the stereotypes of the opposition --that they’re corrupt and that they’re looking outside of Venezuelan boundaries to engage in nefarious actions,” Smilde said in a phone interview from Athens, Georgia. “It’s not the death knell, but it seems pretty damaging.”

Chavez’s campaign has officially requested that the electoral council investigate whether Capriles’ campaign is being funded illegally, campaign manager Jorge Rodriguez said.

Chavez said Sept. 11 that he had 43.1 percent support against 30 percent for Capriles in the latest poll conducted by Datanalisis.

The two previous Datanalisis polls showed Chavez with a lead of 12.1 and 14.3 percentage points respectively, he said. In an August Consultores 21 poll of 1,000 people, Chavez trailed Capriles by 47.7 percent against 45.9 percent.

To contact the reporters on this story: Charlie Devereux at cdevereux3@bloomberg.net; Jose Orozco in Caracas at jorozco8@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net.

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