A Venezuelan judge has fled to the United States after he was dismissed as a Supreme Court Magistrate on March 20th, when an investigation was launched into his links to Venezuelan drug lord Walid Makled. Venezuelan born Makled is currently on trial in the country for crimes including narco-trafficking and murder, after being extradited from Colombia to Venezuela in May last year.
According to the charges levelled at the ex-magistrate, Eladio Aponte, the judge granted a falsified identification document to Makled which named him as a member of the magistrate’s staff, permitting him free passage to anywhere in the country.
In an interview on Wednesday night for US television channel SOiTV, the ex-judge hit out at Venezuelan politicians and high ranking members of the army, accusing them of having intervened and manipulated the Venezuelan judicial system. He also added that he thought Makled to be a “reputable businessman”.
The government has categorically refuted the claims, which they say are an attempt to smear the Chavez administration.
"He is an ex-magistrate being prosecuted for his links to drug trafficking, and who has sold his soul to the devil,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Nicolas Maduro, whilst defending the country’s judicial institutions as independent.
“We can say with total certainty that in the case of Aponte, the decisions taken by our public institutions were in total compliance with the law, demonstrating that there are laws in Venezuela, that here there or no privileges and that no one is protected by narco gangs”. “Aponte is a totally discredited man,” he added.
The minister also went on to criticise the role of the U.S.’s Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) in engineering Aponte’s escape after it emerged that a DEA plane had transported the fugitive from Costa Rica to the United States.
“The DEA now takes away this man accused of being linked to drugs trafficking mafias to turn him into a spokesman against Venezuela… The United States continues to be a sanctuary for drug traffickers, the corrupt, traitors and terrorists,” he said.
Maduro’s sentiments have been echoed by other member of the Venezuelan government and armed forces, as well as by US- Venezuelan attorney and investigative journalist Eva Golinger, who said that Aponte’s claims were part of a “systematic” campaign by Washington to depict Venezuela as a “narco-state” using whatever means possible.
OFAC Criticises “Worrying Trend”
Aponte’s flight to the U.S. comes as the Director of the United States’ Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Adam Szubin, criticised a “worrying trend” in Venezuela, relating to the presence of “drugs kingpins” in the country.
In an interview with opposition newspaper El Universal earlier this week, Szubin stated that the organization was particularly concerned with individuals who were in violation of the “Kingpin Act,” which “goes after foreign persons” accused of financially aiding or supporting the international trafficking of narcotics. Several Venezuelan government officials have been controversially added to the organisation’s sanctions list since 2008.
“The designations made over the last two years,” said Szubin, “conform to the Kingpin Act and point towards a worrying trend in Venezuela.”
“Nobody is added to the list by mistake,” he continued, although conceding that 400 individuals had been removed from the list since 2009.
Szubin went on to cite current Venezuelan Defence Minister, Henry Rangel Silva, who was placed on the agency’s sanctions list in 2008 for allegedly attempting to increase cooperation between the Venezuelan government and Colombia’s FARC guerrillas as proof of this trend. To date, no evidence has been presented by the OFAC in support of these allegations.
As a division of the Treasury Department’s “Terrorism and Financial Intelligence” agency, the OFAC is responsible for administering and enforcing sanctions against states, individuals and groups accused of terrorism, such as those currently being enforced against Iran. The agency is described by the Washington Post as being an institution that “U.S. policymakers increasingly rely on to advance national security and foreign policy goals in the post-9/11 era”.
Since 2008, six other members of the Venezuelan government, including former Caracas mayor Freddy Bernal, have also been added to the OFAC sanction list.
Relations between the United States and Venezuela in the fight against the international drugs trade have been strained since the latter expelled the U.S.’s Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 2005 for acts of espionage, with the Venezuelan government charging the agency with maintaining a consistent campaign against the left wing politics of the government, as opposed to focussing on counter-narcotics operations.