Rep. Greg Meeks will head up a U.S. delegation attending the funeral Friday of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a decision by President Barack Obama that is drawing attention because of the congressman's previous ties to Chavez.
The New York Democrat said Thursday he is honored to be part of the delegation and is "committed to building the relationship between our nations," according to The Hill
newspaper. But his office did not respond to questions about a 2009 Miami Herald report that Meeks met with Chavez in 2006 at the request of indicted Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford to request a criminal probe of Venezuelan banker Gonzalo Tirado.
The banker ended up being charged with tax evasion and theft after the Meeks-Chavez meeting, The Hill reported.
Meeks maintained at the time that the purpose of his meeting with Chavez was to thank him for providing heating oil for poor Americans through Citgo, a subsidiary of state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela.
Former Massachusetts Rep. Bill Delahunt, a Democrat, is also part of the U.S. funeral delegation. Like Meeks, Delahunt drew criticism in 2005 for meeting the Venezuelan dictator to discuss a deal for discounted heating oil to help low-income residents of Massachusetts.
Chavez reportedly died at a Cuban hospital Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro, however, has charged that the anti-American dictator was poisoned and has kicked two U.S. diplomats out of the country, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the government.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland dismissed Maduro's accusations, saying, "This is part of a tired playbook of alleging foreign interference as a political football in internal Venezuelan politics."
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