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Venezuelan drug suspect says he paid judge

Associated Press Modified: April 25, 2012 at 10:15 pm •  Published: April 25, 2012

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — 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.

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