No Top National Guard Officials Will Stand Trial in Venezuela’s Air France Cocaine Bust

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Venezuela has charged 27 suspects in a case involving a massive cocaine seizure made on an Air France flight last year, but high-ranking members of the National Guard are conspicuously absent from the list. 

A Venezuelan court will try the suspects for charges including drug trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy, reported the Associated Press. Those facing trial were arrested in 2013, after more than 1.3 tons of cocaine was found on a Paris-bound plane that had departed from Venezuela’s international airport, known as the Maiquetia. 

Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) is responsible for providing security at the airport. The suspects include four members of the GNB — among them the airport dog handler, the supervisor of the anti-drug unit and a lieutenant colonel — the former head of Air France’s Maiquetia operations; three airport security agents; and various other airport employees, including two X-ray machine operators, reported El Universal

Also among the accused are employees of two Air France contractors and a private security company.

InSight Crime Analysis

The charging of these suspects sheds some light on the manpower needed to carry out what was one of the most ambitious smuggling operations Venezuela has seen, from the low-level airport employees to their supervisors.

However, a year after the seizure, just a handful of GNB members are being sent to trial, and the highest ranking suspect is a lieutenant colonel. As InSight Crime reported, after the Air France bust took place in September 2013, the complex drug trafficking operation would have required extensive support from GNB officials, likely at the highest levels.

In addition to the logistical difficulty of getting 1.3 tons of cocaine onto a commercial plane, the shipment was originally believed to have been purchased by the GNB from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and destined for Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia — a deal not likely to have been conducted by lowly criminals. More recently, Venezuelan officials blamed Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel for the Air France case, although such a deal would also require high-level brokering.

SEE ALSO: Cartel of the Suns News and Profile

The network of corrupt officials within Venezuela’s security forces, referred to as the Cartel of the Suns, has long facilitated drug trafficking, and since the mid-2000s their involvement in the cocaine trade has deepened. However, the government has done little in terms of conducting a serious investigation into possible ties between the drug trade and the security forces. 

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