Carlos Andrés Pérez Burial Battle Spreads to his Assets

in Miami, Monday, Jan. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

in Miami, Monday, Jan. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

The battle of where to bury Carlos Andrés Pérez has extended from the former Venezuelan president's unburied body to his assets.

The heated dispute between Pérez's estranged wife, Blanca Rodríguez de Pérez, and his longtime mistress, Cecilia Matos, has been going on since he died Dec. 25.

Pérez was Venezuela's president from 1974-79 and 1989-93.

His estranged wife wants his body brought back to Venezuela. His mistress wants him buried in Miami.

Now they're arguing about what has happened to his papers, art and memorabilia. His estranged wife's attorney says the items are being hidden. But attorneys for the mistress claim they are being stored for safekeeping.

The new dispute involves items ranging from presidential papers to Persian rugs that Juan Antúnez, attorney for the estranged wife, contends were moved to a warehouse in violation of a judge's order that they be left undisturbed.

"In my opinion, this was done to hide (Venezuelan) state assets. We think it's very suspicious," Antúnez said.

Matos attorney Martin Feldman said the items were moved only for safekeeping and to guard against their possibly being stolen by agents for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a bitter political foe of Pérez.

Feldman said the FBI had been notified about relocation of the items, which also include art work, gifts from other world leaders and Pérez's sash from his 1989 inauguration as president.

"Moving assets isn't the issue. Hiding assets is the issue, and there's no evidence of that," Feldman said.

Circuit Judge Arthur Rothenberg previously appointed a curator to inventory the items. 

Still undecided Tuesday morning was the issue of temporarily interring Pérez's remains in an above-ground crypt to allow time to decide the feud between Rodríguez de Pérez and Matos over his body's final resting place. Rothenberg said he would issue an order regarding the temporary burial as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Rodríguez de Pérez contends that under Florida law, she as surviving spouse has the right to determine the final burial location because Pérez left no written instructions. But Matos argues that Pérez frequently said he would not return to Venezuela, even in death, so long as Chávez was president.

The two sides also disagree on the temporary burial, but Rothenberg has said leaving Perez in a funeral home refrigeration unit is undignified.

"There's absolutely no reason that body should lie in the state it is in," Feldman said.

A March 21 trial has been set on the ultimate question of where to bury the former president.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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