December 17, 2015 / 12:36 AM / 2 years ago

Venezuelan officials accused of taking drug pay-offs in U.S. indictment

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two senior Venezuelan officials facing U.S. drug trafficking charges are accused in an indictment of taking payments from narcotics traffickers and alerting them to drug raids, according to a person with knowledge of the case.

Nestor Reverol, the then-Director of the National Drug Office (ONA), talks to the media during a meeting in Caracas, January 11, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Nestor Reverol, the head of Venezuela’s National Guard, and Edylberto Molina, a former deputy head of the anti-narcotics agency and currently a military attache posted in Germany, are named in the indictment that prosecutors are preparing to unseal, people familiar with the case told Reuters.

In addition to tipping traffickers off about raids, the two are charged with taking other steps to hinder anti-narcotics investigations, the person told Reuters on Wednesday.

Reverol, the former head of Venezuela’s anti-narcotics agency, would be one of the highest-ranking Venezuelan officials to face U.S. drug charges. He could not be reached for comment.

He has previously rejected U.S. accusations that Venezuela has failed to curb illicit drug shipments and has touted the National Guard’s success in cracking down on the flow of cocaine from neighboring Colombia.

Venezuela’s embassy in Berlin did not respond to an email requesting contact information for Molina. The diplomat has been a general in the National Guard, which is the branch of the armed forces that controls Venezuela’s borders.

A National Guard official did not immediately respond to a voice mail seeking comment. An Information Ministry official said the ministry had no comment on Reverol.

The indictment pending in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, which the people said was expected to be unveiled in January, comes as the United States investigates the suspected involvement of senior Venezuelan officials in the cocaine trade.

The National Guard issued a series of Tweets in Reverol’s defense on Tuesday night using the hashtag #NestorReverolSoldierOfTheFatherland and saying he should be praised for capturing more than 100 drugs bosses.

In televised comments on Wednesday, Socialist Party leader Jorge Rodriguez accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of drug trafficking in Venezuela and said the accusations were an “aggression” against the country’s armed forces.

“There are two countries, one that produces drugs and another that shoves it up its nose. One produces and the other consumes, and neither of those two countries is Venezuela,” he said, referring to Colombia and the United States respectively.

The U.S. Justice Department and the DEA have declined to comment on the case.

U.S. prosecutors have unsealed indictments charging at least five former Venezuelan officials with drug trafficking crimes over the past four years, according to records from Florida and New York district courts.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro dismisses charges of official involvement in drug trafficking as an international right-wing campaign to discredit socialism in Venezuela.

Two other former officials with the National Guard have been indicted on U.S. drugs charges in recent years.

One of them, former captain Vassyly Villarroel Ramirez, was indicted in 2011 on cocaine-trafficking charges. The U.S. Treasury put Villarroel on its drug “kingpin” list in 2013, and Venezuela arrested him in July on drug trafficking charges.

Lawyers for Villarroel could not be reached for comment.

Two nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores were arrested in Haiti last month and indicted in federal court in Manhattan on cocaine trafficking charges. They are scheduled to next appear in court on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Julia Harte in Washington and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; Editing by Stuart Grudgings

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