Venezuela has demanded the US extradite a former judge who is now cooperating with US law enforcement, giving weight to the judge's accusations against high-ranking officials in the Chavez government.
Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said the US must hand over Eliado Aponte, as there was a judicial process underway against him in Venezuela for his links to drug traffickers, as well as an Interpol red notice.
Maduro said that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was working to protect criminals and undermine the revolutionary process in Venezuela, reports Radio Nacional de Venezuela.
Aponte was dismissed from the Supreme Court in March, amid accusations that he was linked to drug trafficking. He flew to Costa Rica on April 2, and then was flown out of the country on a DEA-chartered flight.
Since leaving Venezuela, he has publicly claimed that the office of President Hugo Chavez, and top military officials including Defense Minister Henry Rangel Silva, asked him to be lenient in the case against a lieutenant accused of trafficking drugs.
Last week, US officials confirmed to the Associated Press that Aponte was cooperating with US law enforcement and handing over information that could embarrass Chavez's government.
Sources told El Nuevo Herald that Aponte is claiming that drug trafficking operations are run directly by Defense Minister Henry Rangel Silva, Congress President Diosdado Cabello, and Army General Cliver Alcala.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Venezuelan government's forceful demand for Aponte's extradition suggest that it is concerned about his revelations. This gives weight to the former judge's claims, making it seem more likely that he has solid evidence that high-ranking officials in the Venezuelan government and military are involved in drug trafficking.
The US is extremely unlikely to extradite Aponte, especially if he is able to offer proof against officials like Rangel and Alcala, both of whom have been named as narcotics traffickers by the Treasury Department.
In this respect, Aponte has had more luck than his former business partner Walid Makled, a Venezuelan drug kingpin captured in Colombia in 2010. Makled tried to secure his extradition to the US by promising to hand over evidence that members of the Chavez government were involved in drug trafficking, but was sent to Venezuela amid efforts by Bogota to strengthen ties with its neighbor.
Venezuela and the US rarely cooperate closely on extradition cases. In August last year, Venezuela refused to extradite a citizen accused of sexually assaulting minors in the US.