Venezuela interior minister lashes out at U.S. over cocaine charges

August 22, 2016 1:58 PM EDT

Venezuela's Interior and Justice Minister Nestor Reverol speaks during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins


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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's interior minister and former boss of the country's anti-narcotics agency, General Nestor Reverol, hit back on Monday at accusations by a U.S. federal court that he abetted cocaine trafficking.

Earlier this month, U.S. prosecutors announced an indictment charging that from 2008 to 2010, Reverol and another official took payments to alert traffickers over raids, hinder investigations and arrange the release of suspects, cash and drugs. He called the accusations "unfounded."

"I reject them categorically in all their parts," Reverol, 51, said at a news conference at the anti-narcotics agency he used to lead in Caracas.

"They want to use it as a political weapon," Reverol said, flanked by General Edylberto Molina, his former deputy and until recently Venezuela's defense attache in Germany. Molina was also named in the Brooklyn court indictment and sat stony faced in a gray suit during the conference, without speaking.

Venezuela is a large, lightly populated country that shares a long and lawless border with Colombia. It is a major transport hub for its neighbor's cocaine destined to Europe and to a lesser extent to the United States.

Washington has long alleged senior Venezuelan military officials and political allies of President Nicolas Maduro were complicit in the trade. Last year, two nephews of the first lady were indicted in New York on charges of attempting to smuggle cocaine to the United States via Honduras.

Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez kicked out the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2005 and Reverol said cocaine seizures almost doubled the following year.

The numbers have varied since then, but last year overall drug seizures were 79 tonnes, most of that cocaine, current ONA head Irwin Escalona told Reuters. This year until Aug. 21, Venezuela had seized 33 tonnes of drugs, including 29 tonnes of cocaine, Escalona said.

Venezuela started seizing precursor chemicals used in cocaine production last year along the Colombian border, leading them to cocaine laboratories in Venezuela, he said.

Reverol accused the United States of hypocrisy, leading the fight against drugs on one hand while being lax on marijuana cultivation on its own territory and overseeing a surge in opium production in Afghanistan.

He detailed his actions against drug trafficking and organized crime while he was in charge of Venezuela's National Anti-Drugs Organization from 2006-12, including installing a radar network covering all Venezuela's airspace for the first time, arresting traffickers and eradicating illicit crops.

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Bernard Orr)



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