DEA: Venezuelan cocaine ops aided FARC

A US government investigation has found evidence of a massive drug smuggling operation out of Venezuela, linking a powerful trafficker who is accused of supplying arms to Colombian guerrillas with a fugitive Venezuelan businessman, according to a report in Miami’s El Nuevo Herald. At the center of the investigation is Walid Makled, whose family controlled Venezuela’s leading airline and operated one of the largest cargo facilities at Puerto Cabello, the country’s second largest port.

Makled is a fugitive, accused of drug trafficking by Venezuelan authorities. But US agents say officials in the Venezuelan military and the government were complicit in Makled’s operation with Colombian trafficker José Maria Corredor Ibague, according to the document filed by the DEA in federal court in Puerto Rico.

Based on information culled from intelligence sources, Venezuelan officials, witness testimony and DEA agents, the report states hat Makled smuggled an average of 10 tons of cocaine per month into the US from Venezuela—although it does not specify over what period of time.

Makled allegedly partnered with Corredor, who is described as “the most prolific arms-for-drugs trader” working with Colombia’s FARC guerillas, according to the US Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Corredor escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 2005. He was later arrested in Colombia and then extradited to the US, where he awaits trial in charges of providing support to a terrorist organization.

In the document, the DEA charges how Makled purchased seven tons of cocaine from Venezuelan military and government officials that they, in turn, had confiscated from traffickers. “According to information received by the DEA office in Caracas, Walid Makled Garcia had strong ties with high-level members of the Venezuelan government,” the report said.

The report charges that Makled paid a $1 million bribe to Jesus Alfredo Itriago, the head of Venezuela’s anti-drug unit of what was then known as the Technical Judicial Police (PTJ) in Valencia, for the return of a 4,000-kilo shipment of cocaine that had seized. The document was filed in October as part of a DEA request to freeze an account held by Makled and his family in a Venezuelan bank that operates in Puerto Rico.

In 2008, with his three brothers, Makled acquired Venezuela’s flagship airline carrier, Aeropostal, which was nationalized this year. But the family’s most lucrative business was the cargo facility and warehouse in Puerto Cabello, on the country’s northern coast. The wealthy Makled family enjoyed a close relationship with influential allies of President Hugo Chavez, including governors and Supreme Court judges, according to El Nuevo Herald, citing local press reports and documents obtained by the newspaper. Abdala Makled, one of the brothers, served as president of the Federation of Bolivarian Businessmen, a pro-Chavez organizations.

But the family’s business and political empire soon collapsed. In November of 2008, Venezuelan military intelligence officers reported finding 388 kilos of cocaine stored at El Rosario ranch, run by the Makled family. The brothers were accused of drug trafficking and arrested, except for Walid.

In October, the three brothers told El Nuevo Herald through their attorney from prison that they were the victims of politically motivated retribution, related to Abdala’s running for mayor in Valencia against the ruling party candidate. Antonio Denis, the Makled family attorney, said that Walid Makled has not turned himself in because he does not trust the “excessively politicized” Venezuelan legal system. (Miami Herald, Dec. 11 via VHeadline)

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