July 22, 2015 / 1:00 AM / 2 years ago

Venezuela detains two ex-military officers over drugs

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela said on Tuesday it had arrested two former military officers on drug charges including one man linked by the government to Mexico's Sinaloa cartel and wanted by the United States.

Foreign and local critics allege Venezuela's socialist government, under current President Nicolas Maduro and former leader Hugo Chavez, has been abetting cocaine shipments from neighboring Colombia to the United States and Europe.

But officials here say that is a lie, intended to justify U.S.-led hostility toward the government, and point to arrests such as those of the two former military officers at an army roadblock on Monday as evidence of Venezuela's anti-drugs zeal.

The best-known of the two detainees is retired captain Vassyly Villarroel, 43, who headed a trafficking group called "The 40s Cartel", said a statement from the Interior Ministry.

He was wanted for drug crimes and money-laundering in the United States and was a financier of the Sinaloa cartel, the statement added. "He is responsible for sending large quantities of cocaine from Mexico to the United States."

A former lieutenant, Robert Pinto, 32, who escaped jail in 2013 and was a leader of trafficking groups in Anzoategui and Sucre states, was also arrested during the same operation, the ministry and state media said.

Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Ken Wills

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