Venezuelan drug suspect says he paid judge

Prominent drug trafficking suspect Walid Makled claimed on Wednesday that he maintained close ties to a former justice from Venezuela's Supreme Court and gave the judge monthly payments of roughly $70,000 for favors. The judge, Eladio Aponte, has clashed with President Hugo Chavez by accusing the president of asking him to manipulate cases.

State television broadcast brief footage of Makled, who was wearing handcuffs and escorted by police, calling Aponte "my associate" in Venezuela's Aeropostal Airline — one of numerous businesses the suspected drug smuggler owned in this South American nation. He also said he paid the former judge "300 million bolivars," the equivalent of $69,767.

It was not clear where the footage was recorded.

Makled's statements came a week after Aponte made his own accusations that government officials have links to drug traffickers, and described telephone calls that he said he received from President Hugo Chavez and his office about criminal cases.

The dates of the calls from Chavez and other officials are unclear. Aponte said Chavez had personally contacted him about one case when he was a military prosecutor, before he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

Venezuela's National Assembly dismissed Aponte from his Supreme Court post on March 20 for allegedly having links to Makled.

Makled's lawyer, Rafael Ojeda, said he was unaware of his client's relationships with Aponte but added that whatever ties with Aponte should not have any influence on his trial, which has attracted much attention in Venezuela.

During an interview broadcast on the local Globovision television channel last week, Aponte said he received numerous calls from Chavez government and military officials asking him to manipulate court cases pending in the Supreme Court.

Aponte has denied receiving drug money but says he tampered with cases at the request of officials.

Chavez, who is undergoing radiation treatment in Cuba, rejected Aponte's allegations this week, calling the former judge "a criminal" and asserting that Aponte was rightfully dismissed because authorities found evidence of corruption.

Aponte was accused of providing Makled with an official identification card. He has said he thought Makled was a reputable businessman.

After Aponte was dismissed, he fled Venezuela for Costa Rica, where officials said he was flown to the United States last week aboard a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration plane. DEA officials have declined to comment about Aponte.

Venezuelan prosecutors accuse Makled of involvement in the killing of Venezuelan journalist Orel Sambrano and a veterinarian, Francisco Larrazabal. Authorities say Larrazabal witnessed a 2008 drug raid at the Makled family ranch in which nearly 880 pounds (400 kilograms) of cocaine were seized.

Makled denies he was involved in the murders of Sambrano and Larrazabal.

Makled was captured in Colombia in 2010 and extradited to Venezuela last year. While under arrest in Colombia, he caused a stir when he told a television channel that he made monthly million-dollar payments to a group of more than 40 government officials and military officers in Venezuela. Chavez has denied any involvement with Makled.

Both Venezuela and the United States had requested Makled's extradition. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos turned him over to Venezuela, saying Caracas made its request first.