Minister: Narco-Trafficker Escaped from Venezuelan Prison with Police Complicity

A Colombian drug-trafficker, wanted by the US, escaped from a Venezuelan prison over the weekend, allegedly with police complicity. Agents of Venezuela’s military and intelligence police, the DISIP, are being investigated for reportedly accepting bribes of $1-2 million to facilitate the accused’s escape.

Caracas, Venezuela, June 15, 2005—A Colombian accused of smuggling hundreds of kilos of cocaine around the world escaped from a Venezuelan prison on Saturday, according to Venezuela’s Minister of Communications Andres Izarra.  The suspect, Jose Maria Corredor, aka Jose Adrian Rodriguez Buitriago, aka “Boyaco Chepe,” was being held in the Caracas detention center of the DISIP, Venezuela’s military intelligence police.

The “Helicoide” prison managed by the military and intelligence police, the DISIP, was the site of Saturday’s escape. The DISIP are currently under investigation for their alleged participation.
Credit: El Nacional

The the Helicoide, as the DISIP detention center is known, is considered one of Venezuela’s most secure prisons.  It was originally conceived in the 1950s as a shopping center its architects hoped would attract tourists to Venezuela.  But with the fall of the Jimenez dictatorship in 1958, the Helicoide’s investors fled the country and it was turned into the country’s most infamous prison, where the country’s celebrity prisoners are held.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration alerted Venezuelan authorities to the presence of Corredor in the country in Venezuela, leading to his arrest.  Corredor is wanted by the DEA for allegedly processing cocaine in southern Colombia and smuggling it through Venezuela, Brazil, and Suriname into the US, Europe and Africa for which the US was awaiting Corredor’s extradition.

According to Venezuelan government officials, Corredor had not yet been extradited because the US had so far been unable to guarantee that if convicted he would not serve more than 30 years in prison—a precondition for extradition mandated by Venezuela’s constitution.

According to Venezuela’s opposition media, citing anonymous DISIP sources, Corredor was given exceptional treatment at the Helicoide.  Caracas daily El Universal alleges that he had access to a computer, printer, internet and other office luxuries, allowing him to continue managing his illicit enterprise from behind bars.  Preliminary reports from the Ministry of Justice and the Interior’s (MIJ) investigation has corroborated at least some of these allegations, noting that Corredor received assistance in his escape from DISIP agents, in exchange for which he paid them between $1 and 2 million dollars.

DISIP Corruption and Complicity

These revelations have broadened the MIJ investigation into an investigation of the DISIP itself.  Venezuela’s Congress has opened its own investigation.

“The Ministry has opened a comprehensive analysis of the structure of the DISIP,” said MIJ Minister Jesse Chacón in a press conference on Tuesday.  “If this investigation determines that a complete restructuring of the DISIP is warranted, it will be completely restructured.  If it merits a change of director, we’ll change the director.”  But no matter the steps taken, Chacón assured that “we cannot permit the existence of an institution with ethical values such as those revealed in this situation, even less when it’s a State intelligence and security organization.”

In a reference to evidence suggesting an assassination plot against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Chacón noted, “If this can occur with a narco-trafficker who pays $2 million, what could happen with the security of a government functionary when he’s being protected by officials who receive various millions of dollars not to protect him?”

“If it is necessary to restructure the DISIP and convert it into an entirely distinct organization from what it is today, we’ll do it,” added Chacón.

Already, the head of investigations at the DISIP, José Hernandez, has been suspended.  According to Chacón, Hernandez has not yet been accused of aiding and abetting Corredor’s escape, suggesting his suspension has to do with his responsibility in preventing it.  Four other DISIP agents suspected of complicity in the escape are currently being detained for interrogation, and a further nine DISIP agents are under investigation.

The escape of Corredor, awaiting extradition to the US, is an embarrassment for the Venezuelan government as they are currently awaiting extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro terrorist accused of terrorist acts in Venezuela and elsewhere.  The US appears to be unwilling to extradite Posada to Venezuela, but the escape of Corredor can hardly be helping Venezuela’s case.  In bizarre twist, Posada was himself a former DISIP agent.  Though a native Cuban, Posada is a naturalized Venezuelan and was a high-ranking DISIP agent from 1967-74, during which time he was also apparently a CIA informant.