CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Saturday called for an investigation into claims his representatives misappropriated funds intended to help defectors from the Venezuelan military living in Colombia.
More than 1,400 members of Venezuela's armed forces have fled to Colombia this year, heeding Guaido's call to disavow socialist President Nicolas Maduro. They began arriving in late February, as Maduro's troops at the border with Colombia drove back convoys of humanitarian aid requested by Guaido.
Latin American news outlet PanAm Post on Friday reported that representatives of Guaido, the leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly, used funds intended to pay for the cost of the troops' hotels in the Colombian border city of Cucuta for personal purchases. [https://tinyurl.com/y6qgdeka]
"We will investigate this deeply," Guaido said during a speech to supporters in the mountainous Venezuelan state of Merida. "Every cent of public funds should be sacred, and that is something we have to learn as a society."
Guaido in January invoked Venezuela's constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Maduro's 2018 re-election was illegitimate. He has since been recognized as the country's legitimate leader by most Western and Latin American countries, including Colombia and the United States.
The opposition and its allies abroad say Maduro is a corrupt dictator who, along with other senior officials, has grown rich as Venezuela's economy collapsed in recent years, prompting millions to emigrate. Maduro calls Guaido a U.S.-backed puppet seeking to oust him in a coup.
"We request that the relevant jurisdiction investigate and clear up these serious charges," Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, wrote on Twitter on Friday, linking to the PanAm Post article. "Democraticization is not possible under the opacity of corrupt acts."
Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said in a Friday tweet that the Maduro government had previously "denounced a gigantic corruption scheme of Guaido's with money sent to Cucuta to recruit hitmen."
In a statement, Guaido's office said he had requested Colombian authorities' help with the investigation.
"We condemn any possible act of corruption by Venezuelan citizens in the management of resources to pay for the lodging of troops who arrived in Colombia," Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said on Twitter, calling on "relevant authorities" to investigate.
(Reporting by Mayela Armas and Luc Cohen; Additional reporting by Helen Murphy in Bogota; editing by Diane Craft)