Venezuelan official: Ex-judge received drug money

Venezuela's justice minister on Monday accused a former Supreme Court magistrate of receiving money from drug traffickers.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami made the accusation against ex-Magistrate Eladio Aponte, who charged in a television interview shown last week that government and military officials have manipulated court cases.

Venezuelan authorities on Friday put out an international request for Aponte's capture.

"He fled because he was dismissed in order to be brought before justice," El Aissami said at a news conference.

Aponte was dismissed from his post by Venezuela's National Assembly on March 20 over accusations that he had ties to drug suspect Walid Makled. Aponte was accused of providing Makled, who is now jailed in Venezuela, with an official identification card. He has said he thought Makled was a reputable businessman.

Aponte later traveled to Costa Rica, where officials in the Central American country said he was then flown to the United States last week aboard a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration plane.

El Aissami criticized the DEA's handling of the affair and said Venezuelan officials plan to present evidence that Aponte received money from drug trafficking.

In his television interview, Aponte denied receiving drug money but acknowledged that he had participated in manipulating cases at what he said was the request of government and military officials.

The ex-judge's charges have become fodder for political debate in Venezuela as opposition politicians call for an investigation into his claims.

President Hugo Chavez referred to Aponte's accusations for the first time Monday, calling him a "criminal" in a phone call from Havana aired live on television.

El Aissami denied accusations by Aponte that some military officials, including the chief of the national anti-drug office, have ties to drug traffickers. The justice minister said Aponte had made false claims because Gen. Nestor Reverol, the head of the anti-drug office, "had been following his steps."

Aponte didn't provide evidence to back his claims during the interview.

Venezuelan officials believe the DEA knew about Aponte's links for several years but withheld that information from the country's authorities, El Aissami said. He accused the DEA of harboring a fugitive in the United States.

DEA officials in Washington have declined to comment about Aponte.