By Samantha Badgen
The director of the Caracas newspaper, Tal Cual, Teodoro Petkoff, asked the Attorney General’s office last week to open an investigation against Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, his attorney Ytala Hernández Torres and Yurbis Sayago Ramos, notary third of Chacao, for allegedly forging public documents, embezzlement and favoring public officers.
This act comes after a suit Cabello filed against Tal Cual in January for an opinion piece by Carlos Genatios. Until now Cabello had succeeded in imposing cautionary measures on Tal Cual’s board of directors and Genatios, which include not being able to leave the country and a possible fine of more than 100 million bolivares (around $15.9 million), according to Tal Cual.
Attorney Humberto Mendoza de Paola said that after analyzing Cabello's lawsuit made against Genatios and the board of directors -- composed by Petkoff, Manuel Puyana, Francisco Layrisse and Juan Antonio Golia -- they found a series of irregularities, among them that Cabello handed the case over to his lawyer more than 23 days before the Genatios’ opinion piece was published.
“Cabello seems to have the gift of divining future events,” said Mendoza de Paola, according to El Universal and Entorno Inteligente.
According to El País, the irregularity seems to back Tal Cual’s suspicion that the suit is part of an offensive prepared beforehand by the government to attack the press during these days of political instability in Venezuela, where protests that have been taking place for over a month and resulted in various reports of human rights and press freedom violations.
In a recorded statement that was distributed to various media outlets and quoted by the Institute for Press and Society in Venezuela (IPYS), Petkoff said that this process doesn’t make any sense.
“It speaks to the general context and abuse of power that we’ve been facing for 15 years in Venezuela. The regime handles the justice system however it wants to, it’s at its service and it has it like this in order to achieve the particular objectives of some officials.” He added that as of last Friday 107 journalists had been reported assaulted or arrested while covering the protests.
According to IPYS, it doesn’t seem likely that the Attorney General’s office, led by Luisa Ortega Díaz – a known sympathizer of the chavista administration – will act on Petkoff's request to investigate Cabello.
Cabello filed a lawsuit against Genatios and the board of directors because he considered they lied about something he never said. The quote that originated the suit was “if you don’t like the insecurity, leave then,” in reference to the protests about the violence and insecurity in the country.
“It seems like Cabello denied the quote afterwards, something Genatios obviously never became aware of,” published Tal Cual. In Venezuela, according to Article 442 of the Penal Code, the defamation in a written and publicly published document can be punished with up to four years in jail.
This suit is one of many against private media companies that started last year, when Nicolás Maduro took over the presidency after Hugo Chávez’s death.
Tal Cual had already been fined the equivalent to 1 percent of their earnings for 2009 for the publication of an image of an unkempt morgue, which the Tribunal for Children’s Protection qualified as depicting “violent content, weapons, assaults, bloody and naked corpses,” which violates Venezuela's Media Law.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.