Venezuela slams reports senior official running drug ring

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 27, 2015 8:23 PM

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela on Tuesday rejected two foreign media reports accusing Socialist Party heavyweight and parliamentary boss Diosdado Cabello of running a drug ring.

Spanish newspaper ABC and Miami-based El Nuevo Herald reported Cabello's former security chief Leamsy Salazar had fled and was collaborating with U.S. authorities investigating allegations of Venezuelan officials' involvement in drugs.

Officials leapt to the defense of Cabello, a powerful and combative ex-soldier who heads the National Assembly and is the ruling party's No. 2.

"The newspaper ABC of Spain that today lies about Diosdado Cabello is the same one that supported Francoism and European Nazism," Information Minister Jacqueline Farias said on Twitter.

The article, citing unnamed sources close to a U.S. investigation, said Salazar, who apparently worked for the late Hugo Chavez for nearly a decade, has evidence about Cabello's role as head of an alleged military-run "Sun Cartel."

Venezuelan officials have repeatedly denied accusations that such a cartel exists and demanded that evidence be shown.

U.S. officials, domestic political opponents and some foreign media have long accused Venezuela's military of colluding with traffickers and allege that President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government is, at the very least, turning a blind eye to the nation's cocaine trade.

Maduro, elected in 2013 to replace the late Chavez, denies that, depicting the claims as a campaign to besmirch Venezuela, and justify aggression and coup-plotting.

"Imperialist hands are behind this," Maduro said in a speech on Tuesday evening, referring to the claims against Cabello. "A hell of solitude awaits whoever betrays the revolution."

The Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald, which like ABC takes a hostile line against Venezuela's government, also reported Salazar has turned on his former boss and is collaborating with U.S. investigators, again citing anonymous sources.

"Every attack against me strengthens my spirit and commitment," Cabello tweeted, thanking supporters for messages of support. "We have lived through threats, infamies and intrigues during these years of revolution."

There was no immediate word on the media reports about Salazar from U.S. officials in the United States.

(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Hay)