March 11, 2008
A drug-trafficking suspect who has been indicted in the U.S. was captured in Venezuela, which says it wants to try him rather than sending him to the U.S.
One of the U.S. government's most-wanted drug trafficking suspects has been captured in Venezuela and should be tried in the South American country, the justice minister said Monday.
The suspect identified as Armando González Apushana was captured Saturday at a ranch in western Venezuela, Justice Minister Ramon Rodríguez Chacín said.
The U.S. government, which has offered a reward of up to $5 million for his arrest, maintains that the name is an alias and that his real name is Hermagoras González Polanco. He is also wanted internationally through Interpol, which cites the name given by Venezuela on its Web site.
''I think he should be tried here in Venezuela,'' Rodríguez told reporters. ``We aren't afraid of investigating here in Venezuela.''
Rodríguez said authorities believe González has committed crimes in Venezuela, and would investigate whether he was involved in money laundering and other offenses.
Rodríguez also said officials would try to determine if government identify cards found on González were authentic and if anyone had helped him obtain them.
''We don't hide the truth,'' Rodríguez said, pledging that anyone who might have aided him in crimes will be prosecuted. He said González is Colombian and that authorities are also investigating whether he obtained dual Venezuelan citizenship.
Rodríguez said González was detained along with 55 other people who authorities suspect belong to a Colombian paramilitary group, the Guajiro bloc, that has operated in the La Guajira border region.
U.S. authorities accuse González of leading a drug ring known as the Guajira cartel and say he helped smuggle many tons of cocaine to the U.S.
The U.S. State Department also says González was reportedly a member of a right-wing Colombian paramilitary faction involved in smuggling arms from Europe through Venezuela to Colombia.
González has been indicted in New Jersey on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to distribute cocaine and in New York on drug trafficking charges.
U.S. and Colombian officials have alleged in the past that corrupt Venezuelan military officers protected González, but U.S. Embassy officials did not immediately comment on his detention.
President Hugo Chávez, meanwhile, has accused Washington and Bogotá of unfairly labeling Venezuela a drug haven for political reasons.
González's lawyer, Freddy Ferrer, told the private TV channel Globovisión on Sunday that his client is innocent and criticized his ``illegal and illegitimate detention.''