Venezuelan prosecutor: Opposition leader linked to crimes

Venezuela's chief prosecutor is accusing opposition leader Juan Guaidó of being the author of an alleged corruption scheme

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela's chief prosecutor on Tuesday accused opposition leader Juan Guaidó of being the author of an alleged public corruption scheme stemming from a call for security forces to abandon President Nicolás Maduro.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab said his office is investigating two diplomatic representatives of Guaidó accused of stealing money and falsifying hotel bills in February while helping Venezuelan soldiers desert into Colombia under Guaidó's leadership.

Guaidó, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, launched a campaign in January to remove Maduro from power. Backed by the U.S. and dozens of other nations, Guaidó contends he is the rightful leader of Venezuela following a sham election that kept the socialist Maduro to office.

On Monday, Guaidó ordered a probe into the allegations, asking for assistance from authorities in Colombia, where the alleged crimes took place.

Saab, an ally of Maduro, said the case is proof that Guaidó is leading a "mafia of corruption" and can't be trusted to exercise real power.

"Guaidó with the support of the U.S. and foreign governments has not only usurped the office of president of the republic, but appears as head of these thugs who have stolen the money of all Venezuelans," Saab said on state TV.

The alleged crimes happened when hundreds of Venezuelan soldiers heeded an opposition call to leave their posts around the time that Guaidó tried to deliver U.S.-provided aid from Colombia and Brazil into neighboring Venezuela. The attempt collapsed when Venezuelan forces loyal to Maduro blocked aid trucks and clashes broke out.

Venezuela's socialist government has previously accused Guaidó of criminal activity linked to the campaign against Maduro, but stopped short of jailing the opposition leader.

This latest action comes as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is expected to visit Venezuela this week, meeting with Maduro and Guaidó as well as "victims of human rights violations" and their relatives.

The Trump administration has recognized Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president and imposed sanctions on the country's already deteriorating oil industry. Maduro maintains backing from Cuba, Russia and other nations.

Guaidó's ambassador to Colombia, Humberto Calderon, said that he and Guaidó won't allow government corruption to continue under their watch, saying there has been two decades of failed leadership in Venezuela.

"Our message to the country is that we are different," Calderon said in a statement after meeting with a local prosecutor. "We will act with absolute transparency on behalf of the Venezuelan people."