Ex judge to reveal to the US ties of Venezuelan gov't with drug trafficking
Former judge of the Criminal Court, Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), Eladio Aponte will talk to US authorities once some of his relatives have been relocated to safeguard their physical integrity
Former judge of the Criminal Chamber , Supreme Tribunal of Justice, Eladio Aponte is in the United States, in contact with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and will speak publicly on the links between members of the Venezuelan government with drug trafficking and corruption, a senior US official told AP on Wednesday.
The official said that the former Venezuelan judge will speak once some of his relatives have been relocated to protect their physical integrity.
Aponte, who has publicly said that he is in possession of evidence on the participation of members of the Venezuelan government in drug trafficking and other crimes, would be the highest-ranking former official in the country to share information with US authorities so far.
The US official, who requested anonymity to comment on the case without endangering several people, told AP that Aponte is currently in contact with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Department of Justice.
"If the negotiations proceed smoothly, in the coming weeks Aponte will be ready to speak publicly, once the relocation of his loved ones has been completed," said the senior official. "Protecting the family is a logical thing to do. We also want to talk about this, but need to be ready for it."
Unlike the judicial system in most Latin American nations, the US grants a defendant the possibility of reduced sentences if he/she shares valuable information to facilitate the conviction of persons who are highly valuable for investigations.
So far, US officials have not announced any criminal charge against Aponte.
In 2008, the Treasury Department accused current Defense Minister Henry Rangel and two other people close to President Hugo Chávez of helping the rebel Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) in drug trafficking and arms supply.
The National Assembly of Venezuela expelled Aponte from the Supreme Tribunal of Justice on March 20 for his alleged links with Venezuelan drug lord Walid Makled, who said last month in a television appearance that he paid Aponte some USD 70,000 on a monthly basis.
Another official in Washington with information about the case also said that Aponte that has been cooperating in the United States with the Department of Justice and the DEA since he left Costa Rica in April. He added that several criminal charges and drug designations may be lodged.
Aponte is "providing plenty of information," said the official, who requested anonymity because of the implications of the case, adding that the criminal indictment will take several months and will remain confidential.
He described as important the implications of the cooperation of Aponte with US authorities.
Makled was captured in Colombia in 2010 and extradited to Venezuela the following year, where he faces criminal charges related to two murders. The suspect denies connection with the killings.
After his removal from the Supreme Tribunal, Aponte went to Costa Rica, where authorities said he traveled to the US on board a DEA plane. The US agency, however, has refused to make comments so far.
In a television interview last month in Costa Rica, Aponte accused Venezuelan officials of having links to drug trafficking and described how he received phone calls from President Hugo Chávez related to legal cases, when Aponte was a military prosecutor, before he joined the top court.
Aponte has denied receiving money related to drug trafficking.
Chávez rejected Aponte's allegations, and described the former justice as "a criminal."
José Vicente Rangel clearly said: "We are not conducting negotiations threatened with a gun in the head." He warned behind closed doors in the midst of the social upheaval occurred during the oil strike in 2002 and 2003. Dissenting Timoteo Zambrano answered back that no other option was available: "The thing is that otherwise, you do not negotiate."