US prosecutors connect Venezuela military and oil company to drug trafficking in federal trial – JURIST

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The federal trial of Carlos Orense Azocar (Orense) began this week, where he faces accusations of shipping tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States with suspected ties between Venezuelan oil and military leaders. With certain court documents sealed, Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press had access to the courtroom on Monday. Orense, alias “El Gordo,” has pleaded not guilty to three counts of narcotics importation, conspiracy, and possession of machine guns and other destructive devices.

According to the government’s motions in limine, the evidence states Orense coordinated with members of the Cártel de Los Soles and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) since 2003. The motion presented says the defendant transported 1,500 kilograms of narcotics via plane using Venezuelan military transponder codes. The estimated distribution of cocaine to the US was 40 tons per year. The defendant also sold automatic rifles to FARC and obtained fraudulent Venezuelan identification cards for his security detail. Allegedly, an unnamed executive of US Citgo Petroleum helped Orense launder the money it had earned as far back as the mid-2000s. The court motion mentions that protected witnesses will testify to the oil executive’s role. Past US accusations of Venezuelan involvement led to the indictment of President Nicolas Maduro in 2020 on US narcoterrorism charges.

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In a deposition, a special agent for the government addressed the conspiracy allegations of Orense and a former Venezuelan military intelligence chief in maritime and aviation drug trade coordination. The agent recounted a complex web of shipping and private jet routes protected by the Venezuelan military. Inner City Press reported that Orense’s lawyer told the jury, “All four cooperating witnesses were just drug traffickers who wanted to stay in the USA, one of whom tried to kill Orense.” The defense claims Orense simply owns successful finca or ranches, called Los Garanones. The government brought a former driver of Orense to the stand who confirmed Venezuelan military involvement.

This month’s court documents emphasize that the “defendant’s reliance on and bribes to military officers and public officials [are] staggering in magnitude.” Bribing officials in exchange for protection required large amounts of drug proceeds, and the US government says it will establish evidence of quid pro quo through testimony of witnesses and the defendant’s cell phone data with Venezuelan public officials.

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