CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan officials used forged emails to accuse government adversaries of plotting to kill President Nicolas Maduro, according to a private investigation firm hired by one of the accused.
Ruling Socialist Party leaders in May said a group of ardent government critics were preparing to "annihilate" Maduro as part of a planned coup, showing images of emails they said were evidence of the plot.
The images of the emails showed "many indications of user manipulation," according to the report released on Tuesday by Kivu Consulting.
Records subpoenaed from Google also showed that messages attributed to consultant Pedro Burelli had never actually been sent, the report added.
"The 'emails' ... are clearly mock‐ups and do not reflect actual screenshots," reads the report. "There is no evidence of the existence of any emails between Pedro Burelli's Google email accounts and the alleged recipients on those dates."
Burelli, whose lawyers retained the services of Kivu, called the accusations "farcical and defamatory."
The Information Ministry did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Party officials had said government critics including Burelli, former opposition deputy Maria Corina Machado, and one-time presidential hopeful Diego Arria were part of the plan.
The alleged plotters have denied the accusations, which opposition critics widely dismissed as a sham.
In June, the country's top prosecutor said arrest warrants had been obtained for three of the accused for not appearing in court to testify in an investigation, but the prosecutor added that the suspects were out of the country.
Maduro, like his mentor late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, has repeatedly denounced assassination plots against him.
This year he weathered three months of opposition protests over soaring consumer prices and rampant crime that he called an attempt to overthrow him.
(Reporting by Eyanir Chinea and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Tom Brown)