CARACAS, Venezuela -- Prosecutors plan to bring corruption charges against a prominent opponent of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, claiming he misspent public funds by using them to launch an organization that has become one of the country's most popular political parties.
Opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez allegedly accepted donations from Venezuela's state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, in 1998, prosecutors said in a statement Saturday. Lopez was summoned to appear before prosecutors next month.
The donations were purportedly authorized by the politician's mother, Antonietta Mendoza de Lopez, when she was working for the state-run company known as PDVSA, its Spanish acronym. Lopez allegedly guided the donations to a close associate to form First Justice, an organization that later become one of the South American country's most popular political parties.
Lopez, a former Caracas district mayor, has denied any wrongdoing. In a message posted on the Twitter social networking site, Lopez said the accusations are politically motivated.
"Instead of persecuting criminals, they persecute dissidence!" he wrote.
Fellow opposition leaders, including Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, defended Lopez.
"Our solidarity with Leopoldo Lopez," Ledezma said in a tweet. "He will not be alone!"
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February 4, 1992
In February 1992, Venezuelan lieutenant colonel Hugo Chávez Frías led a loyal secretive military cell, the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement, in a coup to overthrow the government of President Carlos Andres Perez. The coup, known as Operation Zamora, failed and Chávez was arrested.
March 26, 1994
In March 1994, Chávez was released from jail by newly elected Venezuelan president Rafael Caldera. In the following years, Chávez traveled across Venezuela and Latin America to talk about his political views and founded a social democratic party, the Fifth Republic Movement, in 1997.
December 6, 1998
In December 1998 Chávez was elected president of Venezuela, supported by the poor and large parts of the middle class. He was inaugurated in February 1999 in Caracas, giving a remarkable speech in which he announced sweeping reforms.
Chávez during his inauguration as president in February 1999.
As president, Chávez formed close ties with socialist leaders of neighboring countries; Cuba's Fidel Castro and Bolivia's Evo Morales.
In 2000, Chávez was reelected for a second term. During the president's second term, Venezuela became one of the world's largest exporters of crude oil. Chávez nationalized much of the oil industry under a state run-company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. During his second term, Chávez stepped up criticism of the United States, coming out as a strong opponent of American intervention in the Middle East.
In January 2001, a first series of massive demonstrations broke out as thousands protested the government's suggested educational reforms.
April 11, 2002
In April 2002, new large protest take a violent turn. Twenty people were killed and over a hundred were wounded. A group of high-ranking officers launched a coup against the president and Chávez agreed to step down. Yet only days later, newly appointed president Pedro Carmona resigned and Chávez took over control.
April 14, 2002
Chávez addresses the nation after being back in power on April 14, 2002.
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in December 2002, demanding the ouster of the presidents. Venezuela was held in the grip of a two-month long strike that crippled the country's economy.
August 14, 2004
An August 2004-referendum to recall Chávez from power fails.
In December 2006, Chávez is reelected for a third term in office, again taking home a landslide victory. "Today, a new era has started, with the expansion of the revolution, of a revolutionary democracy," Chavez supporter crowds.
February 19, 2009
In a 2009-referendum Venezuelans approved an alteration of the constitution, abolishing the two-term limit for public offices. The change clears the path for Chávez to run in the 2012 elections.
After traveling to Cuba for treatment, Chávez announced he underwent cancer surgery and would start chemotherapy. The president did not specify which cancer he was fighting.