(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela’s government ordered the arrest of three top aides to opposition leader María Corina Machado for their alleged involvement in a plot to sabotage a referendum on the disputed Essequibo region in Guyana.
Public Prosecutor Tarek William Saab said Wednesday that his office had charged Claudia Macero, Pedro Urruchurtu and Roberto Abdul with treason, conspiracy and money laundering. The three belong to Machado’s political team, acting as advisers and press liaisons. Machado’s press officer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The move comes as President Nicolás Maduro escalates tensions with Guyana. He’s ordering foreign oil companies in Essequibo to withdraw, asserting his right to do so after Venezuelan voters backed plans to regain control of the territory in a referendum Sunday.
The confrontation with Guyana is also part of Maduro’s efforts to whip up domestic support ahead of Venezuela’s presidential election next year, according to analysts including Nicholas Watson of Teneo Holdings. By that measure, last weekend’s referendum fell short. Polling places appeared empty, though the government officially said almost half the voting population had participated.
Venezuela recently said it opened a path for barred opposition leaders to participate in next year’s presidential elections. Machado, who is currently banned from running and but won this year’s opposition primaries, said earlier Wednesday that she had “not been notified” to contest her disqualification.
As part of the investigation, Saab also issued arrest warrants against several exiled opposition leaders, including Juan Guaidó, Julio Borges, Leopoldo López, and others.
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