Hugo Chavez Hit With $1 Billion Lawsuit By Boca Raton Businessman Nelson Mezerhane

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Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez had one crappy week.

First, reports surfaced that he is, in fact, not cancer-free but rather has only a few months to live. Then the kidnapping of Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos drew attention to the horrible insecurity in Venezuela just as Chavez gears up for next year's elections.

Now a Venezuelan businessman is suing Hugo for $1 billion, claiming the socialist illegally took over his property.

Nelson J. Mezerhane filed the 124-page lawsuit on November 4 in federal court in Miami. Although Chavez isn't named as a defendant, just about everyone else in his administration is: prosecutors, judges, an attorney general, a justice minister, and the sovereign state of Venezuela to boot.

In the suit, Mezerhane claims that Chavez illegally took over his bank, Banco Federal, when the businessman refused to turn over his 20 percent stake in Globovision -- a powerful TV station often critical of the president.

The Venezuelan government says it seized the bank because of financial irregularities. But Mezerhane's lawyer, Pedro Martinez-Fraga, told the Associated Press that his client is a victim of political persecution.

"There was not a public purpose [for the property seizure], and you have to be compensated," Martinez-Fraga said. "There was none of that here."

Facing what Martinez-Fraga says are trumped-up charges, Mezerhane now lives in exile in Boca Raton.

The case resembles that of Eligio Cedeno, a Venezuelan banker and critic of Chavez who was imprisoned for three years without conviction. Amazingly, he sneaked out of the country on a glider in the middle of the night. He lives in Miami and is suing Venezuelan officials for several hundred millions of dollars.

Chavez's beef with Globovision hasn't gone away, either. His administration recently fined the station $2.1 million, in part for airing emotional interviews with inmates's relatives during a prison rebellion. Globovision's owner, Guillermo Zuloaga, fled to Miami last year after prosecutors accused him of usury and conspiracy.

In fact, walk into any bar in Brickell and you're bound to find a few Venezuelan bankers cursing Hugo's name. That could change after October's election, however, where Chavez faces a tight battle for the first time in 12 years.

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