U.S. indicts ex-Venezuelan anti-narcotics agency leaders on drug charges

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors announced an indictment on Monday against two former top officials at Venezuela’s anti-narcotics agency, including one who became the head of the country’s national guard, over allegations that they took part in a cocaine distribution scheme.

Nestor Reverol, General Commander of the Venezuelan National Guard, attends the annual state of the nation address by President Nicolas Maduro at the National Assembly in Caracas January 15, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

The indictment, filed in federal court in Brooklyn, charged Nestor Reverol, the ex-general director of the anti-narcotics agency and onetime commander of Venezuela’s National Guard, and Edylberto Molina, a former sub-director of the drug agency who later became a Venezuelan military attaché posted in Germany.

The indictment, expected since December when Reuters first reported the sealed charges were pending, follows a series of U.S. enforcement actions and probes that have linked individuals tied to the Venezuelan government to international drug trafficking.

Neither Reverol, 51, or Molina, 53, could immediately be reached for comment. Reverol has previously rejected U.S. accusations that Venezuela has failed to curb shipments of illicit drugs.

The Venezuelan government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the indictment, from January 2008 to December 2010, Reverol and Molina took payments from traffickers in exchange for helping them distribute cocaine that would be imported into the United States.

While acting as officials at Venezuela’s National Anti-Drugs Office, Reverol and Molina alerted traffickers to future drug raids or the locations of law enforcement officers, prosecutors said.

They also took steps to stop or hinder investigations to allow drug-filled vehicles to leave Venezuela and arranged for the release of people arrested in drug cases as well as the release of cash and drugs seized by law enforcement, prosecutors said.

As a result, drug traffickers who obtained cocaine from Colombia were able to transport the drug to Venezuela and then transport shipments of hundreds or even a thousand kilograms of cocaine to Mexico and Central America, the indictment said.

At least some of those cocaine shipments were then illegally imported into the United States, the indictment said.

Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in a statement the indictment reflected ongoing U.S. efforts to fight against the ability of drug cartels to infiltrate and corrupt top levels of foreign governments and law enforcement.

“Nothing can be more damaging to law enforcement’s efforts to stop the flow of illegal drugs than when corrupt public officials violate the public’s trust by actively assisting drug traffickers in their deadly criminal activities,” Capers said.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York, additional reporting by Girish Gupta in Caracas; editing by G Crosse