Venezuela's attorney general opens investigation against opposition presidential primary organizers

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s chief prosecutor on Wednesday announced a criminal investigation into organizers of this past weekend's primary election that was meant to let voters choose an opposition candidate to run against President Nicolás Maduro next year.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab told reporters the probe would look at allegations including that the independent National Primary Commission that organized Sunday's balloting was illegally usurping the duties of a government entity.

The announcement came hours after the opposition-organized commission released updated results showing participation of more than 2.4 million voters, the overwhelming majority of whom supported longtime government foe María Corina Machado.

Saab said his investigation also would look into allegations of identity theft, money laundering and conspiracy.

“As we know, an act of buffoonery took place Sunday, a kind of theater to deceive both national and international public opinion,” Saab said, joining other government allies who portrayed the primary election as a farce.

Saab, a close Maduro ally and former lawmaker, said that the commission does not have the authority to preside over an election because that power belongs only to the country’s National Electoral Council. The commission initially sought help from the council, widely considered partial to the ruling party, but forged ahead without it after repeated delays.

Saab added that it remains unclear how the primary was financed, and said that according to complaints the identity of thousands of people “who did not attend” a voting center were used to inflate participation figures.

Maduro’s government and its allies have spent months hindering opposition efforts to hold their primary election and have banned the now-apparent winner from being a candidate — leaving the outcome of Sunday’s poll in doubt.

Organizers did not forecast participation figures, but logistical issues, fuel shortages, government threats and repression led people involved or familiar with the effort to initially estimate turnout of around 1 million. That projection doubled as more and more people arrived at the polls in Venezuela and other countries.

Voters defied expectations, even in neighborhoods once considered strongholds of the ruling party. While they waited in line for hours, many talked about their hopes for a government change that can get the country out of a decade-long economic, political and social crisis.

The latest partial results released by the commission showed at least 2.3 million people within Venezuela and more than 132,000 outside the country voted Sunday.

Machado, a former lawmaker, already has declared herself the winner after results showed her far ahead of nine other candidates. The partial results showed that with about 92% of tally sheets counted, Machado had 2,253,825 votes, or 92.35% of the total. Her closest competitor had 112,523 votes, or 4.61%.

While Maduro's government last week agreed in principle to let the opposition choose its candidate for the 2024 presidential election, Machado remains officially barred from running for office. And Maduro’s government has in the past bent the law, retaliated against opponents and breached agreements as it sees fit.


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