Venezuela arrests pharmacy chain managers

Pedro Luis Angarita Azpurua, president of the Farmatodo pharmacy chain, and Agustin Antonio Alvarez Costa, his vice president, are accused of "irregularities" in how they priced and stocked "essential" goods at their stores (AFP Photo/Andrew Alvarez)
Pedro Luis Angarita Azpurua, president of the Farmatodo pharmacy chain, and Agustin Antonio Alvarez Costa, his vice president, are accused of "irregularities" in how they priced and stocked "essential" goods at their stores (AFP Photo/Andrew Alvarez)

Caracas (AFP) - Two top executives at one of Venezuela's largest drugstore chains have been arrested for allegedly violating laws meant to protect consumers from shortages and runaway inflation, the government said.

Pedro Luis Angarita Azpurua, president of the Farmatodo pharmacy chain, and Agustin Antonio Alvarez Costa, his vice president, are accused of "irregularities" in how they priced and stocked "essential" goods at their stores.

Their understocked shelves and unstaffed cash registers led to long lines, and were intended to lead to speculation and rising prices, which has a "destabilizing" effect on the economy, prosecutors said in a statement late Wednesday.

The two Farmatodo managers were arrested on Saturday and were being held by the national intelligence service, Sebin,

They have been charged under Venezuela's "Fair Price Laws" which seek to throttle skyrocketing inflation by limiting the prices merchants can charge for their goods.

News of their arrests comes just days after President Nicolas Maduro ordered the arrest of the owners of the Dia a Dia supermarket chain on similar charges, alleging that they had ignited "a food war against the people."

At one Farmatodo store in Caracas, officials observed that several cash registers were not staffed, "allowing a long lines to form for customers seeking to pay," a press release from the prosecutor's office said.

Farmatodo also is accused of stashing merchandise rather than stocking it on their shelves, heightening consumers' unease at a time when Venezuelans already are suffering through economic crisis.

Inflation last year skyrocketed to 64 percent in Venezuela, which has endured crippling shortages in basic food items, amid an economic downturn worsened in recent months by the falling price of oil.

Meanwhile, a Venezuelan opposition leader arrested during last year's tumultuous anti-government protests announced on Thursday that he has been freed from prison after completing his sentence.

Enzo Scarano, former mayor of the northern city of San Diego, in a jubilant tweet overnight celebrating his release, cautioned that "we have a long way to go to remain free -- we can do it together."

After serving several months in prison, Scarano was freed after being allowed, for medical reasons, to serve the final few weeks of his prison term under house arrest.

Salvatore Lucchese, former police chief in San Diego, who like Scarano, was arrested for failing to remove street barricades erected at the height of the protests, also has been released, media here reported.

Scarano and Lucchese were detained during the most frenzied days of Venezuela's violent anti-government demonstrations, which took place between February and May of last year.

Those protests, over rising crime and the Maduro government's perceived failures in responding to Venezula's economic setbacks, among other issues, left 43 people dead and hundreds injured.