Colombian police on Thursday captured a Venezuelan businessman accused by U.S. officials of being a major global drug trafficker, just as the two Andean countries were mending broken diplomatic and trade ties.
Walid Makled, who last year was included in a U.S. list of accused major drug barons, was arrested in Norte de Santender, close to the Venezuelan border, a police official said.
The capture came as Colombian and Venezuelan officials were holding talks to repair diplomatic and trade relations after last year when the two countries clashed over a Colombian plan to allow U.S. troops more access to its bases.
Until 2008, Makled and his brothers ran an airline and part of the country’s port, Puerto Cabello, from where U.S. prosecutors charge he exported 10 tonnes of cocaine each month.
In 2008, police arrested Makled’s three brothers after finding 300 kilograms of cocaine on a family ranch. The Makleds say the arrest was politically motivated and the Venezuelan government wanted revenge against one of the brothers who was planning to run for mayor in a local election.
U.S. officials described the arrests as a rare high-level blow against trafficking organizations in Venezuela.
Walid Makled last year said Venezuela’s justice system was too politically biased to guarantee him a fair trial.
Authorities also accuse him of being behind the murder of journalist Orel Sambrano, who wrote articles linking the Makled family to illegal activities including drug trafficking.
In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama placed Makled on a list of significant foreign narcotics traffickers under the Kingpin Act, denying him access to the U.S. financial system. (Luis Jaime Acosta / Reuters)