CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan Socialist Party heavyweight Diosdado Cabello on Wednesday said a defector reportedly accusing him of running a drug ring was merely chasing money and had no proof.
Spanish newspaper ABC and Miami-based El Nuevo Herald have reported Cabello's former security chief Leamsy Salazar had fled and was collaborating with U.S. authorities investigating allegations of Venezuelan officials' involvement with drug trafficking.
Cabello, an influential and pugnacious former military man who heads the National Assembly and is the ruling party's No. 2, said the episode was part of a broader "imperialist" plan to bring down Venezuela's socialist government.
"This is part of the infamy ... Salazar decided to leave Venezuela to hand over his dignity to North American imperialism," Cabello told Colombia's BLU Radio.
"What saddens us most is that someone can have such little ethical convictions as to sell himself for money. But he's going to have problems in the United States when he can't demonstrate any of the things the North Americans are demanding."
Cabello said Salazar was first employed by the presidential palace before working for him, though not as head of security as the newspapers reported. He started acting shiftily in June, Cabello added, before deserting in December.
The intrigue has revived long-standing accusations by U.S. officials, domestic political opponents and some foreign media that Venezuela's military is colluding with traffickers and that President Nicolas Maduro's government is, at the very least, turning a blind eye to the nation's cocaine trade.
Maduro denies that, saying his government has actually done better combatting the drug trade since ending cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005.
(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; editing by Andrew Hay)