Ugly side of Miss Universe is exposed to public view

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The Independent Online
When Miss Universe 1996, Alicia Machado, was asked about her plans, hopes and dreams, she was smart enough to keep the true answer to herself: to tuck into her beloved two-tiered hamburgers, large orders of chips and strawberry milkshakes after months of pre-pageant fasting.

She wasted no time in living the dream until she put on two-and-a-half stone, could no longer fit into the dresses traditionally considered appropriate and there were calls to take back her crown. With a little help from friends such as Miss Universe pageant backer Donald Trump - who described her as "an eating machine" but encouraged her to work out in a New York gym - she survived that hullabaloo. Now she faces a new crisis which could force her to fight her weight problem behind bars.

Ms Machado, 21 and a popular soap opera star, has been accused of driving the getaway car in an alleged Bonnie and Clyde-style attempted murder and baby-snatching in her native Venezuela. Her boyfriend, Juan Rodriguez, is accused of shooting his dead sister's husband, Francisco Sbert, and trying to kidnap the couple's 11-month-old baby son. In a nation where beauty pageants are virtually a religion the case is being followed with more drooling than Ms Machado's soap opera.

According to the accusation in the private criminal case, a feud between two of Venezuela's most powerful families erupted over custody of the boy last November after Rodriguez's sister, Maria Clementina, killed herself. The Rodriguez family, with longtime political connections, blamed Mr Sbert for driving her to suicide.

Outside a Caracas church, after a memorial service for Maria Clementina, Mr Rodriguez allegedly pulled a gun, shot and wounded Mr Sbert, tried to grab the boy and sped off in a car driven, according to witnesses, by Ms Machado. Ms Machado has denied any involvement, and a judge is now deciding whether there are grounds for prosecution.