CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's powerful parliamentary chief, Diosdado Cabello, on Tuesday slammed a Wall Street Journal report that U.S. authorities are investigating him and other senior officials for possible cocaine trafficking and money laundering.
"It would never occur to us to get involved in something that would hurt young people," he said in a speech to the Socialist-controlled National Assembly.
"Those who today accuse me today of drug trafficking should present one piece of evidence, just one," he told the assembly, which chanted "We're all Diosdado" and pushed a motion to support Cabello, lauding him as a "hero of the fatherland."
Citing more than 12 people familiar with the probes, the newspaper on Monday said federal prosecutors in New York and Miami and a Drug Enforcement Administration unit were gathering evidence from former cocaine traffickers, Venezuelan military defectors and people once close to top Venezuelan government officials.
Venezuelan opposition leaders and U.S. officials have made accusations for years of money laundering and drug trafficking against the governments of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez.
The country's leading opposition figures on Tuesday pushed for an investigation following the report.
"These are grave accusations which suggest that our country has become a bridge for drug trafficking," said opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
Officials from the South American nation frame the accusations as part of a wider campaign led by the United States to end the OPEC country's 16 years of socialism.
"This is not a campaign against me, it's a campaign against the entire fatherland," stressed Cabello, the second-highest ranking official in the ruling Socialist Party.
Spanish newspaper ABC reported in January that a former member of Cabello's security detail had fled Venezuela and had told U.S. authorities that he was involved in a drug ring.
Cabello filed a defamation suit last month against 22 people linked to three media outlets for having republished information from that story and hinted on Tuesday more lawsuits will follow.
"I've told those who reproduced the stories and all the stories that have come out: see you in the courts," he said. "I won't give up, not today, not tomorrow."
Reporting by Caracas newsroom; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Alan Crosby