CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela's opposition presidential candidate fired a top aide on Thursday for allegedly taking bribes in a corruption scandal that has injected a new controversy into the heated race campaign ahead of the next month's election.
Henrique Capriles, who has vowed to root out Venezuela's decades-old rampant corruption, ousted deputy Juan Carlos Caldera for using the candidate's name to gain benefits.
State television released a grainy subtitled video that shows Caldera sitting across from a man who asks him to set up a meeting with Capriles. Caldera promises to look into it, adding that a meeting outside Venezuela would be less risky. The man, unseen on camera, hands Caldera two stacks of bills that the lawmaker stashes into a manila envelope.
"Given the information that we have, he's out of the project," Capriles said in a press conference in Caracas. "My grandma used to tell me that the most important thing is our good name, that's why I've always been an open book and I won't allow anyone to get privileges for personal benefit."
Government officials allied with President Hugo Chavez linked the scandal directly to Capriles and demanded an investigation into his campaign finances. Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami wrote on his Twitter account: "New faces, old vices...Now Capriles 'it wasn't me' doesn't know anything about it...(hash)Majunche corrupter." Majunche is Venezuelan slang for low quality.
In a press conference, Caldera said the money was for his election campaign and that the video is part of a dirty campaign by pro-Chavez lawmakers ahead of the Oct. 7 vote.
Caldera said it has nothing to do with the Capriles campaign and identified the man in the video as Luis Pena, an aide to Wilmer Ruperti, a wealthy shipping tycoon. Ruperti is known for giving Chavez a gift of two gold-plated pistols, once owned by Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar.