Ex-judge: Venezuelan officials meddled in cases

AP News
Posted: Apr 19, 2012 1:36 AM
Ex-judge: Venezuelan officials meddled in cases

A former Venezuelan judge who was dismissed from his post for alleged ties to a prominent drug suspect has accused high-ranking officials in President Hugo Chavez's government and military of seeking to manipulate court cases in the country.

Former Supreme Court Magistrate Eladio Aponte said in an interview with the television channel SOiTV shown on Wednesday night that Chavez's office as well as top military officers had contacted him and asked him to be lenient in the case of a lieutenant who was arrested with a shipment of cocaine.

He said those who contacted him had included then-Defense Minister Raul Baduel and intelligence chiefs Gen. Henry Rangel Silva and Gen. Hugo Carvajal.

"That's the only case that I remember in which I've favored a drug trafficker," Aponte said in the interview.

Venezuelan government officials didn't respond to requests for comment Wednesday night.

Aponte was dismissed from his post by Venezuela's National Assembly on March 20 due to accusations of ties to prominent drug suspect Walid Makled. Aponte was accused of providing Makled, who is now jailed in Venezuela, with an official identification card.

Aponte said in the interview that he wasn't sure whether he had provided Makled with such a card, but that he did know him and had signed off on many such cards. He said he had thought Makled was a reputable businessman.

The former magistrate left Venezuela and traveled to Costa Rica earlier this month. The date and location of the interview weren't clear, but the television channel said it was filmed outside Venezuela.

The interview was aired a day after Costa Rican officials said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration flew Aponte to the United States from the Central American country.

Mauricio Boraschi, Costa Rica's deputy security minister and intelligence director, said that Aponte left on a DEA plane Tuesday. He said the ex-judge entered Costa Rica as a tourist and left after discussions with the DEA, about which he didn't offer details.

"He left of his own will and after having established contact with U.S. authorities and having obtained a letter of entry to the United States," Boraschi told a Costa Rican radio station.

In Washington, Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney and DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden declined to make any comment regarding Aponte.

It was unclear what sort of information Aponte might provide to U.S. authorities.

As for the interview, he said: "Why am I speaking now? ... I was unjustly betrayed. I was unjustly humiliated."

The former judge said when asked if he had received any calls from government officials seeking to manipulate court cases: "Sure, from the president on down."

He said that when he worked as a military prosecutor and later as a Supreme Court magistrate, he received calls from officials including Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega and Supreme Court President Luisa Estela Morales seeking to intervene in cases.

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Aponte also said Chavez had personally contacted him about one case when he was a military prosecutor, urging him to carry out an investigation that would favor the government's stance. He said Chavez was interested in a 2004 case in which 118 Colombians were arrested at a ranch outside Caracas and accused of plotting to destabilize the country and assassinate the president.

Aponte said Chavez wanted him "to carry out the investigations showing that was something against the government."

Most of the Colombians were later freed, and in 2007, Chavez pardoned 41 remaining Colombian prisoners who had been charged with military rebellion.

Aponte accused various officials of holding sway over the Venezuelan justice system. He said there is a weekly meeting in which the vice president talks with the Supreme Court president, the chief prosecutor and other officials, and that is "where the guidelines come out regarding what justice is going to be."

Chavez and other officials have previously denied claims by critics of undue government influence over the judiciary.


Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda contributed to this report.