Senior Venezuela military on trial for facilitating drug smuggling

CARACAS (Reuters) - Five members of Venezuela’s military, including some high-ranking officers, are on trial in Venezuela for allegedly allowing drug planes to use the country’s airspace, the state prosecutor said in a statement on Thursday.

Venezuela is suspected by the United States of playing a major role in the trafficking of drugs from South America to the United States and Europe.

President Nicolas Maduro’s leftist government says those accusations are part of a broader smear campaign and points to arrests like these as proof his administration is cracking down on what it calls a few bad apples.

Five active members of the Air Force, including a major and colonel, are on trial in the central state of Aragua. Two brothers, a retired Army major and a retired National Guard sergeant, are also on trial in the same case.

According to the statement, a senior military official offered a monthly dollar payment in exchange for not preventing or reporting the drug flights.

The U.S. State Department said in a report in March that corruption in Venezuela facilitates drug smuggling, and it implicated high-ranking Venezuelan government officials in the trade. (

In one high-profile case, two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady Cilia Flores were arrested and brought to the United States in November to face drug trafficking charges. Earlier this week, Flores accused the United States of “kidnapping” the pair.

At least 100 military and police officials in the last five years have been accused of drug trafficking by Venezuelan prosecutors, according to the state prosecutors’ office.

Reporting by Girish Gupta and Diego Ore; Editing by Lisa Shumaker