As it becomes more and more likely that Colombia will extradite drug kingpin Walid Makled to Venezuela instead of the U.S., Makled has stepped up his accusations of corruption within the Venezuelan government.
In an interview broadcast on Spanish-language network Univision on April 3, Makled presented what he claimed was evidence of high-level official connections to his criminal network. Speaking from prison with Venezuelan journalist Casto Ocando, the interview shows Makled boasting of having rubbed shoulders with important figures in the country. At one point, the former crime boss claims that he had five Venezuelan congressmen on his payroll, some of whom were members of President Hugo Chavez’s party.
Makled also claims to have worked closely with members of Venezuela's military high command. He says that he paid millions of dollars to at least 40 high-ranking military officers "from major generals to brigadier generals" in exchange for "business" favors.
Now, Makled is trying to bring those officials down with him. In the interview, he shows Ocando copies of million-dollar checks supposedly written for illicit purposes, and claims that he has "extremely incriminating" videos of military officials engaged in corrupt dealings.
There has been a warrant out for Makled's arrest since November 2008, when authorities seized large amounts of cocaine at a ranch he owned. Three of his brothers were arrested in the operation. Makled himself is wanted for the death of journalist Orel Zambrano, a journalist who had been investigating the Makled family’s ties to drug smuggling.
As it turns out, Makled may have been able to evade the law for so long because of his close ties to the military. In the interview, he says he was able to move freely throughout the country because he had several official identification cards, including one listing him as a member of the National Guard, which he presents to the camera.
Colombian President Juan Santos' decision to extradite Makled to Venezuela instead of the U.S. was an offer of goodwill towards the neighboring country, as part of his initiative to improve security ties with Venezuela. As InSight reported, Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera met in January with Venezuela’s minister of the interior and justice, Tareck El Aissami, to discuss how to tackle the common threats of drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion. According to Venezuela's El Universal, the presidents of both countries will meet on April 9 to sign a joint counter-narcotics treaty, but the issue of Makled's extradition is sure to arise as well.
The video embedded below is a preview of the interview with Makled. The remaining four segments are set to appear on Univision's website. The following is a transcript of select portions of Casto Ocando's interview, posted by Univision's "Aqui y Ahora" news program and translated by InSight.
Casto Ocando: How did you manage to climb so high in the government of Venezuela, the government of Hugo Chavez?
Makled Walid: I worked with the Chavez government not four years but eight years.
CO: What activities were you involved in with the government?
WM: A lot of things. Do you understand?
CO: In the drug trade, for example?
WM: No, no, in many businesses that we had.
CO: You said [the Venezuelan government] has accumulated a fortune in excess of $1.2 billion [from you]... How did this happen and where is that money?
WM: When I speak of $1.2 billion I am talking about all my business. [Among other things, Makled owned Aeropostal airlines, a number of shipping companies and many properties throughout the country]. We were moving more than 14,000 containers per month.
CO: Containers of what?
WM: Of all kinds of merchandise. I was awarded three contracts: storage, shipping and sales; and all three contracts were signed by the petrochemical industry in Venezuela. I gave millions of dollars worth of payments to Venezuela Petrochemicals, S.A. [a state-owned chemical processing plant]. The last payment I made was about four million dollars.
CO: How many deputies [Venezuelan congressmen] were on your payroll until now?
CO: What kind of favors did all these deputies give you?
WM: Anything you needed, they had it.
CO: How often did you make payments?
WM: There was a like a payroll, around one million dollars.
CO: You have said that you had more than 40 senior Venezuelan military officers on this "payroll?"
WM: The 40 are generals, but there were many more: colonels, majors, etc.
CO: How do you manage to recruit more than 40 generals?
WM: Well it’s just that all my friends -- well, my former friends now, if you get me -- were generals, ministers, congressmen and governors.
CO: Everyone knew what you were doing?
WM: Yes, that's not a secret.
CO: What was the process of recruiting a general?
WM: [Laughter] It was more like they recruited me.
CO: Do you know General Hugo Carvajal Director of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, and Gen. Henry Rangel Silva [both of whom have been accused of links to drug trafficking by the U.S. government]?
WM: Well to be honest, not directly. But I knew people close to him.
CO: What kind of relationship existed there, what kind of arrangement existed?
WM: For an example, I gave a weekly fee of 200 million Venezuelan Bolivares. One hundred million were for General Hugo Carvajal.
CO: [In response to claims that Makled traveled freely around the country masquerading as a government official] How did you get those. You paid for these documents?
WM: No, no, no. Remember that I practically was a government official, back then. And notice the little number two there [displays fake military ID card]. Ah yes! They made me a general.
CO: You've said before that Venezuela is a “narco-state.” What is the basis for saying that?
WM: A lot of things. For example, look at what's happening in [the city of] San Fernando de Apure. Five or six planes leave San Fernando de Apure daily, all loaded with cocaine, for Honduras. They go from Honduras to Mexico and from Mexico to the United States.
CO: Is there official participation in this?
WM: One hundred percent. Of course. It's Venezuelan territory..
CO: You're saying there is a network that transports drugs from southern Apure Venezuela to Central America with a series of planes.
WM: Yeah, and it happens every day. Not some days or others, but every single day. We're talking about four or five planes a day leaving Apure, between the FARC and the Venezuelan army.
CO: Did you have any relationship with the FARC?
WM: That I will only tell to an American prosecutor.
CO: Have you had a relationship or had any contact with terrorist groups operating in Venezuela? Hezbollah, for example?
WM: That also I will only say to an American prosecutor.
CO: But we can say that they operate there?
WM: In Venezuela? Of course!
CO: Are there any training camps, are there are fundraising efforts, how do they operate?
WM: No, my understanding is that their work in Venezuela is limited to making money, all of which
they send to the Middle East.
CO: [In reference to official charges that Makled flew a DC-9 from the International Airport in Simon Bolivar Maiquetia loaded with five and a half tons of cocaine] you said, regarding this case, you received help from senior government officials in Venezuela.
WM: What I have said is this: that if I sent that plane, I could not have acquired it alone, or have it loaded, or controlled the control tower. Look, it’s the international airport, the country's entryway into Venezuela.
CO: The government says that everything you say is slander and lies.
WM: I'm showing evidence. What do you want? How come I was sending it from the most important port Venezuela? How come I was the granting of an international airport? How did I get official approval from the national government to operate?
CO: Have you received specific threats to Venezuela since you’ve been here in jail?
WM: That's why I'm doing all these complaints. If something does happen ... so that the world knows what is going on.
CO: [In reference to claims that Makled has a video showing a general taking bribes] This video is of a general receiving money? Like what happened in Peru with the "Vladivideos" [videos of Peruvian general Vladimiro Montesinos offering bribes to congressmen in exchange for political support]?
WM: That thing with Montesinos ...That’s nothing.
CO: How many videos do you have?
WM: In total there are six.
CO: You mentioned that you have sufficient evidence to the downfall of the Chavez government. To what are you referring to?
WM: To many things. Many. And they are hard evidence.