Caracas, Venezuela (VA) – Venezuelan authorities have identified a member of the criminal gang “El Maloni” as a prime suspect in last week’s murder of opposition parliamentary candidate and trade union leader Luis Manuel Diaz.
A candidate for the opposition Democratic Action (AD) party in central Guárico state, Diaz was shot dead on Wednesday night following a campaign event with other opposition leaders, including Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo Lopez.
As reported by Venezuelan newspaper Últimas Noticias, authorities are seeking the arrest of Oscar de Jesús Noguera Hernández, an alleged member of El Maloni, which is an offshoot of the infamous paramilitary group “Los Picures” that engages in extortion and other criminal activities in several regions of Guárico state.
Also known as “El Pipi”, Hernández is considered one of the best marksmen of the criminal outfit and is believed to have carried out the killing with a .9mm handgun. The same weapon is suspected to have been used in another homicide in Altagracia de Orituco, Guarico, on October 9.
Diaz, whose alias is reported to be “La Crema”, was also a trade union leader with suspected links to the criminal group “Los Plateados”. The group is alleged to be involved in a turf war with “Los Picures” for control over parts of Guárico – especially the local oil and construction unions.
In particular, the two criminal groups dispute control over the allocation of jobs at the “William Lara” thermoelectric plant located in Altagracia de Orituco where Diaz was a union leader.
As part of this turf war, Diaz was in the process of being tried for his alleged role in the 2010 killing of two members of a rival union linked to “Los Picures”. He had spent three years in the Venezuelan General Penitentiary. The trial was set to resume on January 27, 2016.
Following his release from prison in 2013, Diaz was reported to have rarely left his residence due to to death threats, according to witnesses.
In the immediate aftermath of the killing, AD General Secretary Henry Ramos Allup and Lilian Tintori pinned the blame on United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) activists and President Nicolas Maduro, respectively.
The US Embassy and the Organization of American States issued similar accusations against the Venezuelan government, with the latter calling for the suspension of Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
No evidence has yet been provided, however, to bolster these claims.
President Maduro, meanwhile, has rejected efforts to politicize the case. He has confirmed that a comprehensive investigation is underway.
For his part, PSUV campaign leader Jorge Rodriguez has announced plans to sue Allup for defamation.
Arreaza Warns of Assassination Plot against Lilian Tintori, Offers Protection
Following the killing of Luis Manuel Diaz, Venezuelan Vice-President Jorge Arreaza warned Saturday that opposition leader Lilian Tintori could be the target of an assassination plot by “mercenaries financed by the ultra-right”.
“We have secure information that there are mercenaries who are being paid 30,000, 50,000 dollars to commit political crimes and she [Tintori] could be a target,” he stated.
Arreaza offered the opposition leader and wife of Leopoldo Lopez security protection provided by Venezuela’s National Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN), though provided no further details.
“We have offered her protection as we have to other opposition leaders who appear in our intelligence information as [assassination] targets to create confusion and say that the government was [responsible].”
For her part, Tintori publically refused government protection, taking to Twitter to dismiss the Vice-President’s warning as “lies”.
In February 2014, Tintori publicly thanked the national government for having providing protection for her husband after he received a series of death threats.
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