CARACAS, Venezuela—A former Venezuelan defense minister and critic of President Hugo Chavez was sentenced to more than seven years in prison on Friday after being convicted of embezzlement and abuse of power.
Retired Gen. Raul Baduel was sentenced to seven years, 11 months in prison by a military court and is barred from running for public office, state television reported.
Baduel was tried on charges that 40 million bolivars -- then worth $18.6 million at the official exchange rate -- went missing in 2006 and 2007 while he was defense minister. Baduel has insisted he is innocent and dismissed the accusation as a politically motivated reprisal for his opposition to Chavez.
Baduel retired in July 2007 after Chavez removed him from the defense minister post, and he quickly emerged as a prominent critic of the president. He publicly opposed a package of constitutional revisions proposed by Chavez that would have enshrined socialist ideals in the constitution but were rejected by voters in 2007.
"He was tried without any evidence," his daughter Andreina Baduel said after the sentencing. "My father has been an honest man and he always will be."
In the same case, Col. Hernan Medina Marval was sentenced to 8 years, 11 months in prison.
Another of Baduel's daughters, Rayrin Baduel, told reporters that the main evidence had been the testimony of soldiers who saw Medina carrying some black backs allegedly filled with cash.
"Why didn't they arrest him at that very moment?" she said.
Chavez has denied going after opponents through the legal system, saying Baduel and other government critics are criminals who must face justice.
Baduel had maintained a friendship with Chavez since the presidents' army days and clandestinely aided a failed 1992 coup attempt led by the then-lieutenant colonel.
The general also came to Chavez's aid in 2002, when the president was briefly ousted in a coup. Baduel was a key player in securing Chavez's return to power by sending a team of paratroopers to rescue him from officers who had detained him.