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Maduro probes purported US involvement in Air France drug cache

04 october 2013, 10:03
0
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Wednesday he was investigating whether US drug enforcement agents were involved in a huge cocaine drug bust as part of a plot to brand Venezuela a "narco state", AFP reports.

"I would not be surprised if the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Administration) is behind this. We're investigating to see if this was done by the DEA through mafias," Maduro said in a speech.

On September 11, an Air France plane landed in Paris from Caracas with 1.3 tonnes of cocaine on board distributed in 30 suitcases. The cocaine has an estimated street value of $270 million.

French authorities disclosed the find -- the largest cocaine seizure ever on French soil -- 10 days later, after no one came forward to claim the bags.

Maduro, an elected leftist, often charges the United States with trying to kill him and to destabilize his government, following in the steps of his predecessor, the staunch US opponent Hugo Chavez.

Venezuelan authorities have arrested 23 people, including eight members of the National Guard, in connection with the case. Five others were arrested in Paris -- three Italians and two Britons.

"They say the Italian mafia is behind all this. But all these mafias are friends of the DEA... work with the DEA -- all the bosses, the Colombians, the Mexicans, etc. It is big business," Maduro said.

"This is being used as political weapon to claim that we are a narco state.

"Venezuela, a narco state? We break records in capturing drug bosses, we break records in drug seizures and even surpass the DEA, which is in fact a transnational drug trafficker," Maduro charged, adding: "Wherever the DEA is, there are drugs, and what this looks to have been was a controlled handover of drugs."

The remarks were Maduro's first on the case.

In announcing the latest arrest in the case earlier, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz said that all detainees except the National Guard officials were Air France and airport workers.

Ortega gave no details on the latest person to be arrested, but disclosed that one of those under arrest was the wife of an official.

The case was a major embarrassment for the National Guard, which is in charge of security at the Maiquetia Airport, where the Air France flight originated.

Venezuela cut ties with the DEA in 2005, accusing its agents of spying. Caracas claims its counternarcotics strategy has had better results, while the US says Venezuela takes insufficient drug control measures.

Venezuela claims it is not a drug producing or trafficking nation and that it is only unfortunately, unwittingly used as a transshipment stopover at times. Opposition members have charged that Venezuelan authorities are routinely paid off by drug traffickers.

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