DEA: Makled-Garcia Controlled Drug Airstrips

By Geraldine Cook
November 22, 2010

Accused trafficker arrested in Colombia; sought by U.S., Venezuela

He’s jailed in Colombia and wanted in the United States and Venezuela.
And while it appears Venezuela will prevail in efforts to extradite Walid
Makled-Garcia, an indictment filed earlier this month in a New York federal court
offers an interesting glimpse at how U.S. authorities believe the Syrian-born
Makled-Garcia contributed to the recent rash of drug-filled airplanes.
Makled-Garcia operated and controlled several airstrips located in Venezuela,
prosecutors allege in the Nov. 6 indictment. Different drug-trafficking
organizations used the airstrips to fly planes loaded with multi-thousand kilogram
quantities of cocaine out of Venezuela.
The indictment also accuses Makled-Garcia of bribing law enforcement
officials in Venezuela so that planes carrying drugs could leave the country
unmolested.
One confidential informant was present at an airstrip in Venezuela with
Makled-Garcia when planes returned from Mexico filled with U.S. currency.
Makled-Garcia first appeared on U.S. law enforcement radar screens in 2006
when he allegedly coordinated the safe exit of a DC-9 filled with 5,600 kilos of
cocaine from Simon Bolivar International Airport in Venezuela to Toluca, Mexico.
The plane had mechanical problems during the flight and was forced to land at
Ciudad del Carmen International Airport in Campeche. Because of the unusual landing,
Mexican authorities became suspicious and sent a drug-sniffing dog near the plane.
Inside the plane, Mexican police found 128 identical black suitcases packed
with cocaine. They all were marked “private.”
That bust made worldwide headlines and focused more attention on airliners.
But according to the indictment, Makled-Garcia kept at it, coordinating
dozens of drug-filled flights and often charging up to half a load’s value as his
fee. Much of the money was used to pay off various officials, the indictment states.
On one occasion, a DEA confidential source reported a conversation in which
Makled-Garcia is alleged to have said; “If gringos want the poison, keep sending it
their way.”
Venezuelan authorities say Makled-Garcia is responsible for two
murders.
One of the victims, newspaper columnist Orel Zambrano, was killed by two
gunmen January 2009 after writing about drugs cases where the Makled family had been
implicated.
Venezuelan police arrested Makled-Garcia’s three brothers in 2009 after
finding 300 kilos of cocaine on a family ranch, according to media reports at the
time.
At the time of Makled’s August arrest, Colombia’s police director
called him a “pseudo businessman” who got rich through a drug-trafficking
alliance with the leftist rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC. The
Makled family at one time owned Venezuela’s Aeropostal airlines and a
warehousing business at Puerto Cabello, the country’s main cargo port,
according to the Washington Post.
Colombian Police Gen. Oscar Naranjo had said in August that Makled’s
syndicate smuggled more than 10 metric tons a month of drugs to the United States
and Europe and that he would be extradited to New York City to stand trial, the Post
reported.

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