Published On: Fri, May 22nd, 2015

U.S. DEA meets with Venezuelan defectors in Curaçao, Panama and Colombia

U.S. probe targets No. 2 official Diosdado Cabello, several others, on suspicion of drug trafficking and money laundering

CabelloWASHINGTON, WILLEMSTAD -  U.S. prosecutors are investigating several high-ranking Venezuelan officials, including the president of the country’s congress, on suspicion that they have turned the country into a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering, according to more than a dozen people familiar with the probes.

An elite unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington and federal prosecutors in New York and Miami are building cases using evidence provided by former cocaine traffickers, informants who were once close to top Venezuelan officials and defectors from the Venezuelan military, these people say.

A leading target, according to a Justice Department official and other American authorities, is National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, considered the country’s second most-powerful man.

“There is extensive evidence to justify that he is one of the heads, if not the head, of the cartel,” said the Justice Department official, speaking of a group of military officers and top officials suspected of being involved in the drug trade. “He certainly is a main target.”

To build cases, U.S. law-enforcement officials work with Venezuelan exiles and others to locate and recruit disaffected Venezuelans.

“We get people out of Venezuela, and we meet with them in Panama, Curaçao, Bogotá,” said a former intelligence operative who works with U.S. officials to recruit and debrief Venezuelans who have evidence of links between Venezuelan officials and the drug trade.

Former Venezuelan military officers and others living outside the country provide help by contacting their former comrades and urging them to defect, the recruiter said. If the defector can provide useful information, the recruiter said, he is flown to the U.S. and a new life.

“What does the U.S. want?” said the recruiter, who has been working Venezuelan cases since 2008. “The U.S. wants proof, evidence of relations between politicians, military officers and functionaries with drug traffickers and terrorist groups.”

Source: Wall Street Journal

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