jueves, 31 de mayo de 2012

#Venezuela #Maracay Fugitive Venezuela judge helps elite U.S. anti-drugs unit


BY BRIAN ELLSWORTH & DAVID ADAMS

CARACAS/MIAMI – A former Venezuelan Supreme Court judge who fled the country last month is cooperating with an elite special operations unit of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that targets major international traffickers, according to sources familiar with the case.
Testimony by Eladio Aponte could pave the way for indictments of President Hugo Chavez‘s allies. That would embarrass the socialist leader and help Washington cast its ideological adversary as leading a pariah nation.
The United States has alleged for years that Chavez turns a blind eye to trafficking and that officials in his government are directly involved, accusations that Chavez rejects.
Aponte is one of six special witnesses cooperating with the DEA in its investigation of Venezuelan government ties to trafficking, said a former U.S. government official familiar with the situation.
The case is being handled by Group 959, a unit of DEA’s Special Operations Division, according to sources with direct knowledge of the case including a former law enforcement source.
The DEA declined to comment.
Group 959, known as the Bilateral Investigations Unit, was set up to target traffickers overseas plotting to import cocaine to the United States, even if no shipments actually arrive.
It takes its name from an extra-territorial extension of drug laws, known as Section 959, allowing prosecution of acts committed outside the jurisdiction of the United States.
David Tinsley, a retired DEA veteran who now runs his own private intelligence agency, said Group 959 would only be involved in the Aponte case if the government felt he could deliver strong evidence.
“In the hands of 959, he would become a very effective tool,” he said. “They must have wanted Aponte bad. (The division) doesn’t go on fishing expeditions, they are very surgical. They know who they are going after and why.”
Group 959 has handled key investigations from Colombia to Afghanistan and West Africa. They include the 2006 indictment of the entire top leadership and 43 commanders of Colombia’s FARC guerrilla army on charges of running a $25 billion drug trafficking network responsible for 60 percent of the cocaine on U.S. streets, according to former DEA agents.
DRUG TRADE
If the U.S. government does charge senior Venezuelan officials, it would echo the 1988 indictment of Panamanian military leader Manuel Noriega and some of his allies on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. U.S. troops went on to force Noriega from power the following year and he was tried and jailed in the United States.
Chavez’s government has angrily denied the allegations leveled against it by U.S. officials and now by Aponte.
The scandal is unlikely to affect Chavez’s October re-election bid, which will largely hinge on his recovery from an undisclosed type of cancer.
But it has spurred renewed attention to the allegations that Chavez has allowed a surge in drug trafficking in Venezuela.
Aponte said in an interview with Miami-based online TV channel SOi TV in April that Chavez allies routinely manipulate the court system, and he accused top officials of involvement in the drug trade.
He said he was ordered to release a military officer believed to be part of Chavez’s inner circle who had been arrested for allegedly helping smuggle two tons of cocaine.
Aponte’s claims were quickly reiterated by another former judge, Luis Velasquez, who left Venezuela in 2006 amid a dispute with Chavez allies. He said Venezuela’s judicial system and military have been penetrated by drug traffickers.
Aponte was removed from his post by Venezuela’s National Assembly on charges of assisting accused Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled, considered one of the Andean region’s biggest traffickers. The judge fled to Costa Rica where he met with DEA agents before being flown to the United States on April 17 aboard a government chartered plane.
KINGPIN TRIAL
Makled is on trial for drug trafficking, money laundering and murder, charges he denies. The trial has produced a drip-drip of incriminating details.
Makled has said he paid millions of dollars to government officials and military officers who helped him obtain lucrative concessions, including one that gave him the right to operate Venezuela’s main port, and that he had flown judges and government ministers on his personal jet.
“If I’m a drug trafficker, then all those people I worked with are drug traffickers,” he said in a 2010 interview from a prison cell in Colombia, where he was captured and later extradited to Venezuela.
Despite denying involvement in drug trafficking, he claims to have extensive evidence of government links to the cocaine trade.
Makled also told reporters last month that he made monthly payments to Aponte because the two were business partners in an airline. Government sympathizers gleefully repeated the claims in apparent efforts to impugn Aponte’s credibility but critics said it in fact highlighted the drug trade’s close ties with the judiciary.
Aponte has not commented on Makled’s claims.
Cocaine is smuggled into Venezuela from neighboring Colombia, the world’s top producer, and on to Europe, the United States and Africa.
The United States has already accused a number of Venezuelan officials including Defense Minister Henry Rangel of helping Colombian guerrillas smuggle cocaine, freezing those officials’ assets in the United States and prohibiting U.S. citizens from doing business with them.
“Members of the government and security forces were credibly reported to have engaged in or facilitated drug trafficking activities,” the White House said last year in an annual assessment of global cooperation in the drug war.
Chavez’s government rejects Aponte’s statements as U.S.-fueled propaganda, saying he “sold his soul” to the DEA. It says his dismissal shows Venezuela’s judicial system works and it has discussed seeking his extradition from the United States.
“They have created an entire campaign meant to associate our armed forces and our defense minister with drug trafficking,” said ruling Socialist Party official Blanca Eekhout.
Chavez, who halted cooperation with the DEA in 2005 on charges that it violated Venezuela’s sovereignty, has repeatedly scoffed at U.S. accusations his government is soft on drugs. He notes Venezuela has on numerous occasions turned traffickers over to U.S. authorities and makes frequent narcotics seizures.
CARTEL WAR
The U.S. State Department estimated in a report this year that between 161 and 212 metric tons of cocaine “likely departed from Venezuela to global destinations in 2011.”
Venezuela’s drug trade stretches to West Africa and Eastern Europe, the report said, with cocaine shipments from Venezuela reaching the likes of Guinea Bissau and Ukraine.
Velasquez, the judge who echoed Aponte’s criticisms, said war had broken out between Venezuelan cartels, including one made up of senior military officers known as the “Cartel of the Suns.” Its name comes from the insignias that decorate the epaulettes of Venezuelan generals.
“(Chavez) should know that among his favorite generals there are drug traffickers,” said Velasquez in a television interview, also with SOi TV filmed in Costa Rica, where he now lives. “There is proof that high-ranking officials have been bribed … and nobody does anything.”
Velasquez said that conflict was responsible for the murders of General Jesus Aguilarte and General Wilmer Moreno, close confidants of the president who were gunned down in March and April in killings that resembled drug mafia murders.
The government has been largely silent about the two cases, which is surprising because both victims took part in the failed 1992 coup that thrust Chavez to fame. Officers who were involved in that putsch are among Chavez’s closest allies and Venezuela’s most powerful officials.
A spokesman for Venezuela’s main investigative police unit said the group had not yet determined a motive for the murders.

Fuente: http://interamericansecuritywatch.com/fugitive-venezuela-judge-helps-elite-u-s-anti-drugs-unit/

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