Venezuela and the US are both seeking the extradition of Walid Makled, a notorious drug lord known as “The Arab” or “The Turk,” who was arrested in a joint operation by Colombian police and the DEA in the city of Cúcuta near the Venezuelan border Aug. 19. A federal court in Manhattan has indicted Makled on charges of drug trafficking—allegedly in cooperation with Colombia’s FARC guerillas. Venezuela is meanwhile seeking him on multiple murder counts.
Colombian National Police chief Gen. Oscar Naranjo said that Makled’s crime machine, which he called “one of the most powerful mafia organizations in South America,” exported an estimated ten tons of cocaine to the US each month. Makled is held responsible for the January 2008 assassination of Colombian drug lord Wilber Alirio Varela AKA “Jabon” (Soap) in Mérida, Venezuela. Valera, leader of the notorious Norte del Valle Cartel, was one of the world’s most wanted drug lords.
Investigators say Makled exploited his family’s control of Venezuelan airline Aeropostol to facilitate his operations. Gen. Naranjo called Makled a “pseudo-businessman” who used legitimate business as a front. But a handcuffed Makled protested to reporters after his bust, saying: “It’s nothing, nothing, just lies, lies… Do you really believe I am a criminal? I’m a businessman.”
In addition to the Varela killing, Makled is charged in Venezuela with the murders of lawyer and journalist Orel Zambrano and veterinarian Francisco Larrazabal. (BBC News, LAHT, Aug. 21; Colombia Reports, Aug. 20)