Venezuela seeks arrest of fugitive judge through Interpol
Venezuela asked Interpol on Friday to issue a notice for the arrest of a former Supreme Court justice who fled the country after he was removed from the bench for allegedly assisting a drug trafficker.
Eladio Aponte, who has accused President Hugo Chávez's government of manipulating the judiciary and having links to the drug trade, fled two weeks ago to Costa Rica and was flown to the United States by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, according to a Costa Rican official.
The retired colonel and former chief military prosecutor is expected to share potentially embarrassing information with the DEA that could lead to new drug charges against members of the Venezuelan government.
A Venezuelan prosecutor asked Interpol to put Aponte on its red notice list based on an arrest warrant issued in Caracas on Wednesday, the Attorney General's office said in a statement.
The Venezuelan court that issued the arrest order also impounded Aponte's assets and blocked his bank accounts.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro said Aponte had "sold his soul to the DEA" and accused the United States of picking a fugitive from Venezuelan justice to use him as a political tool to attack Chávez's leftist government.
Aponte, 63, left Venezuela after the country's legislature, the National Assembly, removed him from the Supreme Court due to allegations that he had authorized a special government identity card for Walid Makled, a Venezuelan businessman jailed on drug trafficking charges.
Makled, who is wanted in the United States on drug trafficking charges, was arrested in Colombia in 2010 and extradited to Venezuela, where he is on trial.
In an interview with Miami-based Internet TV channel Soi TV broadcast on Wednesday, the former judge admitted his role in supplying the identity card to Makled, but said he had no knowledge of his involvement in drug trafficking at the time.
Aponte said high-profile criminal cases were manipulated by top-ranking Venezuelan officials in the Chavez government to determine their outcome, including one involving a military officer who was arrested for storing drugs at an army base.
A red notice posted by the international police organization INTERPOL helps member countries locate and arrest wanted people with a view to extradition.
The United States accuses the Venezuelan government of turning a blind eye to drug trafficking and appointing corrupt military officers to top positions.
Chávez, who is battling cancer, says Venezuela has made great progress in fighting drug traffickers operating along its border with Colombia and accuses the United States of seeking to undermine his self-styled "socialist revolution."
Chávez ended cooperation with the DEA in 2005 amid accusations that its agents were spying and violating the sovereignty of Venezuela, a major oil-producing nation that provides close to 10 percent of US crude and fuel imports.