By Brian Ellsworth and Vivian Sequera
CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition on Sunday said it will investigate alleged wrongdoing within its ranks after a media outlet reported that a group of opposition lawmakers had unduly advocated for a businessman linked to the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido said he would speak on Sunday about “acts of corruption”, hours after website Armando.info reported that the alleged wrongdoing involved legislators from opposition parties First Justice and Popular Will.
The scandal comes as opposition efforts to oust Maduro lose steam and Guaido, who has been recognised by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, struggles to launch a new wave of street protests.
“I will announce decisions and measures that go directly against those who seek to undermine the people’s faith in us,” tweeted Guaido, who in January invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency after declaring Maduro a usurper.
“I will not allow corruption to put at risk everything we have fought for.”
According to the Armando.info report, the legislators wrote letters of support for a Colombian national, Carlos Lizcano, to the U.S. Treasury and Colombia’s public prosecutor’s office despite evidence of his ties to Alex Saab, another Colombian man who is under U.S. sanction for corruption associated with Maduro’s state-backed food distribution program.
The U.S. Treasury department and Colombia’s public prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
First Justice said in a statement it was investigating three legislators identified in the report and was seeking their removal from parliament’s anti-corruption mission.
Popular Will, Guaido’s party, said in a statement that it had suspended three legislators.
“There is a smear campaign against us and some of our fellow legislators in the Venezuelan parliament,” tweeted legislator Luis Parra, who was placed under investigation by First Justice.
It was not immediately evident if any of the legislators broke the law.
In a letter to Guaido dated Saturday that he posted on Twitter, Freddy Superlano of Popular Will denied any wrongdoing but said that while the investigation proceeded he was stepping down from his role as president of the national assembly’s comptroller commission.
Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Saab or Lizcano.
The distribution program known by the Spanish acronym CLAP has become a crucial source of food for Venezuelans facing hyper inflation, which has left a minimum wage salary so devalued it can barely buy a day’s groceries.
But the program has faced widespread accusations by Venezuela’s opposition and U.S. authorities of over-pricing food imports as part of a broad corruption racket.
Maduro has defended CLAP as an effort to help the country weather U.S. sanctions that have hobbled the OPEC nation’s oil exports and made it increasingly difficult to import basic goods.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Additional reporting by Vivian Sequera; Editing by Daniel Wallis)