U.S. to Charge Venezuelan Military Officials
Officials to be charged with trafficking cocaine to American shores
By CHRISTOPHER MATTHEWS in New York and JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA in Mexico City
Updated Dec. 15, 2015 11:47 p.m. ET
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are preparing to charge high-ranking Venezuelan officials with trafficking cocaine to the U.S., a person familiar with the case said Tuesday.
Prosecutors at the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn will charge General Nestor Reverol, who heads the powerful National Guard, with conspiracy to traffic cocaine from Venezuela to American shores, said the person. The person said that prosecutors also would level the same charge against Edilberto Molina, a National Guard general and a former high-ranking official in the National Anti-Drug Office, the Venezuelan equivalent of the U.S. drug czar’s office.
Gens. Reverol and Molina couldn’t be reached to comment. Calls to the Defense Ministry in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, and to the government’s Communications Ministry weren’t returned.
Venezuelan officials didn’t immediately respond to the news from New York, which was reported Tuesday by Reuters. But high-ranking officials have in the past scoffed at reports that American prosecutors are investigating Venezuelan officials, saying they are part of a conspiracy to destabilize the government and help the opposition take power.
The expected charges against Gens. Reverol and Molina are likely to be made public as early as the end of the month, people familiar with the case said. They are part of a broad investigation by federal prosecutors into the alleged involvement in drug trafficking by various high-ranking military officers in both the army and the National Guard, as well as in the upper echelon of President Nicolás Maduro’s government, these people said.
A former minister of interior and former head of the National Anti-Drug Office, Gen. Reverol was named head of Venezuela’s National Guard last year. In August, he was in charge of shutting down the Colombian border to stop smuggling between the two countries, which Mr. Maduro said was causing Venezuela’s widespread shortages of goods.
Gen. Reverol is well known in Venezuela, having taken reporters during his time in the Anti-Drug Office to the border with Colombia to demonstrate what he called his government’s successful efforts to go after drug trafficking. He also touted the National Guard’s efforts fighting the drug trade.
“The drugs were found hidden inside the truck, and detected by our sentinel canines,” said a recent message on his official Twitter account, featuring a picture of the confiscated truck.
Prosecutors in Manhattan and Miami have been investigating the alleged role of Venezuela’s No. 2, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, as well as other powerful civilian and military figures in the government, for their alleged role in drug trafficking, law-enforcement officials have told The Journal. Mr. Cabello and the government have never returned calls and emails seeking comment, but have publicly denied having committed crimes.
Last month, two nephews of Cilia Flores, the first lady of Venezuela and herself an influential power broker, were arrested and sent from Haiti to the U.S., where they were with planning to transport 800 kilograms, or nearly 1,800 pounds. Their lawyers indicated at their initial court appearance that the two would plead not guilty at a hearing scheduled for Dec. 17.
The recent investigations by American justice officials are a response to an explosion in drug trafficking in Venezuela, U.S. law-enforcement officials say.
Many Colombian traffickers, under pressure at home, have moved to Venezuela, where U.S. investigators say they have found a government and military eager to permit and participate in the smuggling of cocaine. The U.S. estimates that about 250 tons of cocaine moves through Venezuela before being transported to American shores or Europe.
Venezuela’s armed forces, particularly the National Guard, are particularly enmeshed in the drug trade, analysts say.
In 2010, after U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan unsealed an indictment of Walid Makled, a Venezuelan who boasted of having 40 generals on his payroll.
“All my business associates are generals,” Mr. Makled said then to an associate in correspondence seen by The Wall Street Journal. “I’m telling you we dispatched 300,000 kilos of coke. I couldn’t have done it without the top of the government.”
In an interview broadcast by Univision, the U.S.-based Spanish language television station, Mr. Makled said Gen. Reverol had been promoted to defense minister after the general had denounced him for involvement in drug trafficking. Mr. Makled was later extradited by Colombia to Venezuela and is currently serving a 14½-year sentence for drug trafficking.
—Sara Schaefer Muñoz contributed to this article.
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