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Walid Makled's extradition case highlights warming Venezuela-Colombia ties

Colombian President Santos looks likely to announce the extradition of alleged drug kingpin Walid Makled to Venezuela during a meeting Saturday with Chávez.

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Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, said if Makled is sent to Venezuela it will deny US law enforcement officials information that could “legally dismantle some of the most important drug networks in the world.” This was reiterated recently by Venezuela's former Ambassador to the United Nations, Diego Arria, who said his nation's "justice system is not currently capable of providing" a fair and transparent trial.

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Makled himself has corroborated these allegations. During a jailhouse interview that aired Sunday on Univision, Makled said Venezuela is involved both in the production and distribution of cocaine, working closely with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to transport up to five small planes a day filled with cocaine from southern Venezuela to Central America.

Makled did not directly address allegations that he is a drug lord, as US prosecutors claim, but said that he regularly paid millions of dollars in bribes to Venezuelan government and military officials to gain lucrative business concessions.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration has said Makled bought cocaine from the FARC and was responsible for sending small planes, one of which crashed in 2009, to Honduras and Mexico from Venezuela.

Makled says that if he was involved in such activities it would have only been possible with government authorization.

“What I’ve said is this: that supposing I sent the plane, I couldn’t have sent it by myself, okay? I couldn’t have loaded it, I couldn’t have run the control tower. Come on, it’s the international airport, the country’s entryway to Venezuela," he told Univision.

He claims at one time to have had as many as 40 generals on his payroll, though he says he didn’t have to recruit any of them. “It was more like they recruited me,” he told the interviewer with a laugh.

In the interview, Makled also says Hezbollah is “absolutely” active in Venezuela but is saving the details for the court. “They make money and then send all that money to the Middle East.”

The son of Syrian immigrants says he never met Chávez during the years he was paying off Venezuelan government officials but that he did meet the president’s relatives and others who were very close to him.

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