A Colombian airline executive has turned himself over to US authorities and is expected to testify about drug flights leaving Venezuela. However, it is not a given that his testimony will directly implicate high-level traffickers.
On January 8, Jorge Enrique Pérez Ruiz, the former owner of the now-defunct Colombian airline West Caribbean Airways, quietly turned himself over to US authorities, reported El Tiempo.
According to the details of a plea bargain negotiated over a period of eight months, Pérez Ruiz was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in piloting a drug flight between Panama and Venezuela's Apure state, a known drug trafficking hub, with the intention of collecting a shipment of cocaine ultimately bound for the United States. The former executive will be eligible for parole after having served two years of his sentence.
The plea bargain and sentencing deal reportedly take into account Pérez Ruiz's promise to offer authorities his "total cooperation." Court documents also reveal that Pérez Ruiz has aided authorities in carrying out undercover investigations.
This latest development is just one of many recent high-profile efforts on behalf of the US Justice Department to go after drug trafficking networks in Venezuela, including bringing charges against high-ranking officials in the security forces and relatives of President Nicolas Maduro.
InSight Crime Analysis
Pérez Ruiz's cooperation means the US has added another viable witness to the cadre of former drug traffickers, and at least one defected security chief, who are working with authorities to build cases against trafficking rings in Venezuela. Of particular interest to US authorities is any information that could further unmask the Cartel de los Soles (Cartel of the Suns), a term used to refer to a drug trafficking network made up of high-ranking officials in the Venezuelan military and security forces.
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While Pérez Ruiz will surely be able to offer operational details about drug flights in Venezuela, specifically those leaving Apure state, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to implicate any specific individuals, let alone security or military officers who might be members of the Cartel de los Soles. While the Cartel de los Soles is thought to be active in Apure state, so are other drug trafficking groups such as Colombian guerrilla group the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia).