Venezuelan authorities seek arrest of former judge

AP News
Posted: Apr 20, 2012 10:27 PM
Venezuelan authorities seek arrest of former judge

Venezuelan authorities on Friday put out an international request for the capture of a former Supreme Court magistrate who is accused of having links to a prominent drug suspect.

The office of Venezuela's Prosecutor General said the request was issued through Interpol for the arrest of former Magistrate Eladio Aponte. It said a court also ordered a freeze on his assets and bank accounts.

Aponte was dismissed from his post by Venezuela's National Assembly on March 20 over accusations that he had ties to drug suspect Walid Makled. Aponte was accused of providing Makled, who is now jailed in Venezuela, with an official identification card. He has said he thought Makled was a reputable businessman.

Officials in Costa Rica have said the former judge arrived in that country earlier this month and left for the United States on Tuesday aboard a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration plane. On Friday, DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden declined to comment on Aponte.

In a television interview aired this week, Aponte accused officials in President Hugo Chavez's government and military of manipulating court cases.

Government officials denied his accusations and called Aponte a fugitive criminal.

National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, a Chavez ally, on Friday denied an accusation that the president had called Aponte to give orders on a case when Aponte was a military prosecutor. Cabello called those and other claims by Aponte "an attack on Venezuelan institutions."

The ex-judge's charges have become fodder for political debate as opposition politicians call for an investigation into his claims.

Aponte "is certainly a criminal because he manipulated the justice system," opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez said. "But what's relevant about this is that he's a person who's been openly linked to the government."

In this week's television interview, Aponte acknowledged that he had participated in manipulating cases.

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

Aponte 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 Estella Morales seeking to intervene in cases.

He also said there have been weekly meetings at which the vice president has talked with the Supreme Court president, the chief prosecutor and other officials to lay out "guidelines" for the judiciary.

Aponte did not provide evidence to back his claims during the interview, which was shown on Wednesday night.