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Venezuela left red-faced by escape of drug suspect

By Pascal Fletcher | Reuters.com

Mon Jun 13, 2005 04:17 PM ET | CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) | An accused international drug-trafficker wanted by the United States for smuggling hundreds of kilos (pounds) of cocaine from Colombia has escaped from Venezuela's security police headquarters, a minister said on Monday.

Venezuelan Information Minister Andres Izarra confirmed local media reports which said the Colombian suspect, identified as Jose Maria Corredor, was taken out the heavily-guarded DISIP headquarters early on Saturday in a car driven by a DISIP officer.

"There was inside complicity. An investigation has been opened and a number of DISIP officers -- three or four -- have been detained," Izarra told a news conference.

The DISIP security police headquarters, a circular, fortress-like building known as the Helicoide, is considered one of Venezuela's most secure detention centers.

Izarra said he believed Corredor had offered bribes to be able to escape. "Obviously, this was a drug-trafficker with a very large financial capability," he said.

Corredor, also known as Jose Adrian Rodriguez Buitriago, alias "Boyaco Chepe," was arrested in October in Caracas at the request of U.S. authorities.

This was a sign of anti-narcotics cooperation between the two governments which had continued despite deteriorating political ties between Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter and its biggest oil client the United States.

In December, Venezuela's Supreme Court initially approved the extradition of Corredor to the United States but the handover did not go ahead because U.S. authorities could not fulfill conditions set by the court.

The escape is an embarrassment for Venezuela because it occurred at a time when President Hugo Chavez's government is pressing Washington to extradite a Cuban exile wanted by Caracas for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner.

Left-winger Chavez has warned that unless Cuban-born Luis Posada Carrilles, a former CIA collaborator who faces immigration charges in the United States, is extradited, his country's ties with Washington could be affected.

Evidence supplied by U.S. authorities accused Corredor of operating cocaine laboratories in southern Colombia from where he shipped the drug in small planes from clandestine airstrips protected by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia's main leftist rebel group.

Corredor was charged with transporting hundreds of kilos of cocaine through Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname for shipment to markets in Europe, the United States and Africa.

Izarra said his extradition had not gone ahead because U.S. authorities were unable to guarantee that Corredor would not be sentenced in the United States to a prison term of more than 30 years, which is prohibited by Venezuela's constitution.



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