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Former lightweight champ Valero arrested on suspicion of killing his wife

Photo by Edsau Olivares

Photo by Edsau Olivares

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Former lightweight champion Edwin Valero was detained Sunday on suspicion of killing his wife, the gravest in a string of problems that have threatened to derail his career. Prosecutors say they will charge Valero in the killing "in the coming hours."

Venezuelan Federal Police Chief Wilmer Flores said Valero was arrested after police found the body of his 20-year-old wife in a hotel in Valencia. Valero left the hotel room around dawn on Sunday and allegedly told security that he had killed Jennifer Viera, Flores said.

Flores told state television that police found three stab wounds on Viera's body. He said Valero was transferred a local police precinct, "where we are headed to take samples needed for the investigation of the case" and to question the boxer.

Valero's lawyer, Milda Mora, did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

The 28-year-old fighter is a household name in Venezuela and he has a huge image of President Hugo Chavez tattooed on his chest, along with the country's yellow, blue and red flag.

His all-action style and 27-0 record -- all by knockouts -- earned him a reputation as a tough, explosive crowd-pleaser. Venezuelans call him "Inca," alluding to an Indian warrior, while elsewhere he has been called "Dinamita," or dynamite.

The former WBA super featherweight and WBC lightweight champion has been in trouble with the law before.

Last month, Valero was brought up on charges of harassing his wife and threatening medical personnel who treated her at a hospital in the western city of Merida. Police arrested Valero following an argument with a doctor and nurse at the hospital, where his wife was being treated for a series of injuries, including a punctured lung and broken ribs.

Valero entered a Venezuelan rehab center March 28 for treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, Mora said at the time. The boxer's attorney said Viera was injured when she fell down a flight of stairs at the couple's home while checking a water tank on the roof.

The Attorney General's Office said in a statement that Valero was detained March 25 on suspicion of assaulting his wife, but his wife told a police officer her injuries were due to a fall. When the boxer arrived moments later, he forbade Viera from speaking to the police officer, and spoke threateningly to the officer, prosecutors said in a statement.

The Attorney General's Office said a prosecutor had asked a court to order Valero jailed but that the judge instead placed him under a restraining order that barred him from going near his wife, a condition he repeatedly violated.

The Venezuela daily El Universal also reported that Valero had been arrested recently after a neighbor called authorities and claimed the boxer struck his mother and a sister.

"I've never hit my little sister and much less my mother," Valero responded at the time, in comments published by Venezuelan television station RCTV's Web site.

Valero shot to fame when he won his first 18 fights by first-round knockout, setting a record that has since been eclipsed by Tyrone Brunson. Valero last fought in February, stopping Antonio DeMarco in an entertaining fight in Monterrey, Mexico.

His promoter, Top Rank, said Valero was not scheduled to fight any time soon. He had been having difficulty obtaining a visa to fight in the United States, basically ruling him out of the most lucrative opportunities.

He was replaced as WBC lightweight champion in February after he expressed a desire to campaign in a higher weight division, WBC president Jose Sulaiman said.

"He's a boy who is extraordinarily talented in boxing," Sulaiman said by phone from Mexico City. "It's a shame what is happening."

Valero was involved in a motorcycle accident in 2001 that resulted in a cerebral hemorrhage, and because most jurisdictions refused to license a fighter who sustained a brain injury, he was unable to fight in the United States. The boxer wound up fighting mainly in Japan and Latin America, where he won his first title in 2006.

Along with accusations of domestic violence in Venezuela, Valero was charged with drunken driving in Texas, which is the primary reason he was denied a U.S. visa.

He accused the U.S. government of discrimination, saying he had completed all the necessary paperwork for the visa but his application wasn't approved because of his sympathy for Chavez, a fierce critic of the U.S. government.

He has appeared as a special guest at televised events hosted by Chavez, and has been lionized by Chavez supporters as a national hero, while some critics have accused him of avoiding punishment for past problems due to close links to the government.