CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s top prosecutor is seeking an explanation from Britain about a diplomat’s role in an attempt to film the trial of opposition protest leader Leopoldo Lopez using video glasses.
The incident occurred in a Caracas courtroom last week when Lopez’s father, also called Leopoldo, sought to find a surreptitious way of documenting his son’s appearance by sneaking in a pair of recording glasses.
“They’re $20 glasses from Amazon made in China, not a NASA instrument! They don’t allow recording by phone, but there’s no rule against glasses,” said the elder Lopez, referring to a type often advertised as “spy glasses.”
“But I was caught, and when one of the sheriffs pulled me out, I let the glasses drop and they fell on this British fellow who had nothing to do with it,” he told Reuters.
With Western pressure over the Lopez case building, however, Venezuela’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega, suspected deliberate collusion between the diplomat and the opposition leader’s family. She has asked Venezuela’s foreign ministry to follow up with British authorities over what she termed an “irregular” incident and sign of international interference.
“What would have happened if a Venezuelan diplomat in England had done the same?” Ortega said, according to a statement late on Thursday.
“Episodes like this show there is a permanent effort to study ways of penetrating the Venezuelan state, destabilizing and creating chaos and conflict.”
The British embassy did not divulge details, but said there was no incorrect behavior.
“We strongly reject any suggestions of wrongdoing by the officer concerned,” said UK ambassador John Saville.
Lopez, a Harvard-educated economist, was jailed a year ago for spearheading protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government that sparked violence killing 43 people including demonstrators, Maduro backers and security officials.
His case is a cause celebre for the opposition, while government supporters view him as the mastermind of last year’s violence with a shady history including actively backing a short-lived 2002 coup against Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
Foreign diplomatic and Venezuelan official sources said the British official involved, Matthew Webb, had left Venezuela and would likely not return.
“I feel very sorry for the British embassy guy,” Lopez said. “Somebody is turning a grain of salt into a mountain. Because he’s British, they’ve decided he was a 007 agent.”
Though media are not allowed to film the trial, some diplomats and journalists have entered court sessions as observers during the lengthy, on-off proceedings.
Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Matthew Lewis