Caracas, June 3rd 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) - A former Cucuta city councillor and international fugitive has been captured by Venezuelan authorities after being accused of financing and orchestrating the assassination of one of the country’s most prominent socialist legislators, Robert Serra (27), last October.
Julio César Vélez González, who was twice city councillor for the Colombian border city of Cucuta, was detained by Venezuelan security forces in the early hours of Wednesday morning, according to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
González has been on the run from Colombian authorities since late 2012, after being implicated in the 2010 murder of his wife, María Clara Avendaño (21), whose death was originally treated as a suicide.
The accusation made him subject to an Interpol arrest warrant, valid in 180 countries, and a reward of 50 million Colombian pesos was offered by Bogota for his capture. The ex-politician is also the owner of a chain of foreign exchange centres known as “Meca Cambio” which operate in the border town and have allegedly been used by González for money laundering purposes and attacking the Venezuelan economy.
“I want to publicly announce on Telesur… that Julio Velez, known as Julito… has been captured in Venezuela in the early hours of this morning. He is now in the hands of the Venezuelan justice system, behind bars,” stated the president on live TV Wednesday.
On Tuesday night Maduro revealed on public television channel VTV that his government held González responsible for the murder of Serra, who was brutally killed alongside his political ally and partner, Maria Herrera (26), in a frenzied gang knife attack at his home in Caracas on October 1, 2014. So far, 12 people have been arrested in connection with the assassination, with one suspect still at large and thought to be in Colombia.
According to the president, González is the righthand man of former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who has been officially accused of being financed by paramilitary and narco-trafficking groups. The ultra right politician and wealthy landowner, who presided over Colombia from 2002-2010, is a staunch opponent of the Bolivarian revolution and has been accused several times of financing subversive activities against the government.
“All signs point to Uribe, lots of technical elements, witness testimonies, evidence and (other) elements that we have compiled,” said Maduro on Tuesday.
As an Uribista councillor, González figured amongst the ranks of the “Social Party of National Unity,” commonly known as the “U Party,” which attempts to unite all “Uribistas” under the same political organisation. He was officially suspended from the party in 2012 due to the ongoing murder investigation against him.
Yet Uribe and González are more than just politically linked, and the murder case saw the former councillor defended by Alvaro Uribe’s lawyer, Jaime Granados. The defence attorney, who has represented a series of politicians mired in paramilitary scandals, managed to secure a temporary release for González which allowed him to go into hiding in September 2012.
To date, the Colombian prosecutor Edgar Torres says he has compiled at least 79 testimonies and 152 pieces of evidence against González in relation to the killing of Avendaño, despite admitting that “much less is required to prove the murder”.
The reward for the runaway’s capture was raised to 50 million pesos by Colombian police in September 2014 when he was rumoured to be in Venezuela and in receipt of a Venezuelan identity card.
González’s arrest comes less than a week after the man accused of delivering the fatal blow to Serra was extradited from Colombia to Venezuela.
Known as “El Colombia,” Padilla Leiva is thought to be the head of the six man paramilitary gang allegedly paid by González to carry out the murder of young parliamentary radical Serra. Leiva arrived in Venezuela on Saturday morning after his extradition was approved by current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in early May.
The latest arrests appear to lend added weight to the Venezuelan government’s allegations that the country has witnessed a recent jump in paramilitary violence, which it says is spilling over the border from neighbouring Colombia. These allegations have been backed up by former Colombian president and current Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) Ernesto Samper.
Uribe’s implication in the plot by the Venezuelan government has stoked the flames in the ongoing war of words between Caracas and the former president, who took to Twitter to blast the Maduro administration in retaliation.
“Every defamation from the dictatorship of Venezuela motivates me further to combat it,” he tweeted.
News on González’s forthcoming trial is expected to be announced by Venezuelan Minister of Justice, Peace and the Interior, Gustavo González Lopez, in the next few days.