CARACAS, Venezuela — Amid repeated threats by President Hugo Chavez to shut down the Globovision television station, government prosecutors Thursday indicted the station's main owner over an unrelated business deal.
Prosecutors charged that Guillermo Zuloaga, who also distributes Toyota vehicles in Venezuela, had stored 24 new cars at one of his homes with plans to sell them for an excessive profit. Government officials raided the home on May 21 and found the vehicles stored there.
Zuloaga told reporters Thursday that the government is trying to scare him and shut down Globovision, the only noncable television station that regularly airs critical reports and broadcasts of Chavez.
"The government should know that to shut up or close down a media outlet is not the way to hide what's really happening in Venezuela," Zuloaga said. Zuloaga said he wasn't planning to flee the country and added: "We don't believe there's anything to fear."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the raid "deeply troubling" and urged Chavez to "respect all independent media and cease all harassment."
The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington said Wednesday the legal proceeding against Zuloaga for the cars is separate from the government's investigation of Globovision.
It said Kerry's statement ignored that the government "has demonstrated enormous tolerance toward the repeated irresponsible behavior by Globovision."
Chavez and senior government officials view Globovision as an arm of the opposition and have long accused the 24-hour news station of abetting a brief 2002 coup that toppled the president.
Globovision's executives say Chavez is upset because he hasn't been able to silence the station's hard-hitting reports.
Chavez publicly attacked Globovision last month after the station scooped state television stations when it reported that a mild earthquake had hit Venezuela early that morning with no major damage.
Chavez and senior government officials said the pre-dawn news report "incited panic."
The government also is investigating the big game hunting trophies that Zuloaga has on his walls to see whether this violated any environmental laws.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow South American news at McClatchy's Inside South America