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Last updated: April 19, 2012 11:24 pm
A Venezuelan former supreme court judge who this week fled to the US has accused president Hugo Chávez and other top officials of manipulating the justice system and keeping political prisoners.
Eladio Aponte Aponte, who escaped from Venezuela after he was dismissed over his supposed connection with alleged drug lord Walid Makled, also claimed to have evidence linking high-ranking military officials that are close allies with Mr Chávez to drug trafficking.
The fugitive judge’s position as the supreme court’s military prosecutor and then magistrate made him highly influential, and he claimed to have received telephone calls demanding favours from “everyone from the president down”, including an “infinite number” from the president of the supreme court. He denied receiving payment for the favours.
“They asked me for favours and I carried them out. Woe betide any judge who refuses to do so … you would be dismissed,” Mr Aponte told Miami-based TV network SoiTV in an interview aired in Venezuela on Wednesday night.
Mr Aponte is accused of granting Mr Makled, whose trial in Venezuela began earlier this month after he was extradited from Colombia last year, with an official identification card showing him to be part of Venezuela’s intelligence agency. Mr Aponte is now in the US collaborating with the Drug Enforcement Administration, after voluntarily boarding a private plane from Costa Rica on Tuesday.
Venezuela’s foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, rejected the ex-judge’s allegations due to his links with Mr Makled. “He’s an absolutely discredited man,” Mr Maduro said on Thursday. “He’s an ex-magistrate being prosecuted for his links to drug trafficking and who has sold his soul to the devil.” Other government officials said Mr Aponte’s declarations formed part of a US plan to destabilise Venezuela.
While some analysts warned it would be hard to determine the truth of Mr Aponte’s allegations, suspecting he may be involved in a broader political game, others considered his statements could help to understand the connection between drug traffickers, the army and the government in Venezuela.
Despite his alleged connection with Mr Makled, a prominent drug trafficking suspect alleged to have been smuggling as much as 10 tonnes of cocaine a month into the US at one point, Mr Aponte said there was only one case in which he favoured a drug smuggler. He said he was pressured by a senior military official to be lenient with an officer who had been arrested for trafficking cocaine. “We favoured him with a cautionary measure, he was not imprisoned,” Mr Aponte said.
He also alleged that the vice-president Elías Jaua effectively runs Venezuela’s justice system, and chairs a meeting with the president of the Supreme Court and other top justice officials on Friday mornings.
“That is where the instructions are given as to what is going to be justice … in accordance with the political panorama,” he said.
Mr Aponte said that he had been “faithful” to the government but that he had been “unjustly betrayed” and that he now fears for his life in his home country. The justice system “is very corrupt at every single level. There’s a lot of manipulation ... There’s no ruling that isn’t consulted. Lately, all the criminal courts have to make consultations before handing down a ruling,” Mr Aponte said.
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