Reputed drug kingpin Makled arraigned in Venezuela

AP News
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Posted: May 12, 2011 12:01 AM
Reputed drug kingpin Makled arraigned in Venezuela

A Venezuelan man accused of being a major international drug trafficker was arraigned Wednesday on charges including money laundering, drug trafficking and hired killings.

A judge ordered Walid Makled to remain jailed in the national intelligence agency headquarters during his trial, the state-run Venezuelan News Agency reported.

The court hearing was closed to the news media.

Makled was extradited to Venezuela from Colombia on Monday, nearly nine months after his capture. He has attracted attention by saying repeatedly in interviews that he paid officials in Venezuela for government favors.

Both Venezuela and the United States requested his extradition. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos decided to turn him over to Venezuela, saying Caracas made its request first. Santos also noted Makled was charged with more serious crimes in Venezuela _ not only drug trafficking but also involvement in two murder cases.

Makled is accused in the killings of Venezuelan journalist Orel Sambrano and a veterinarian, Francisco Larrazabal. Authorities say Larrazabal witnessed a 2008 drug raid at the Makled family ranch in which nearly 880 pounds (400 kilograms) of cocaine was seized.

Santos' decision to spurn the U.S. request in favor of Venezuela's also came as he was working to improve badly frayed relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. government "vigorously pursued Makled's extradition, making a clear and strong argument in an extradition request filed well in advance of any deadline that Makled should be prosecuted first in the United States."

He noted that Makled was captured based on information provided by U.S. authorities.

"We will continue to work to ensure that any information Makled has that would be of value to U.S. law enforcement will be made available for potential U.S. investigations and prosecutions," Toner said.