The trial of Carlos Orense Azocar, the Venezuelan drug lord extradited to New York last year, is set to begin next Monday, with US authorities accusing the businessman of associating with left-wing guerrillas and top officials of Nicolas Maduro’s regime to export one ton of cocaine per week.
According to prosecutorial documents from the Southern District of New York, Orense, aka “El Gordo” – the fat man – worked in collaboration with members of the so-called Los Soles Cartel and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to send boats and planes loaded with cocaine to Central America and transshipment points in the Caribbean, with the United States as the final destination.
“For more than a decade, the defendant worked with other large-scale drug traffickers in Venezuela and elsewhere to import tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States,” states a motion filed by prosecutors . “To carry out cocaine distribution on this scale, the defendant colluded with and bribed high-ranking Venezuelan military officers who protected and facilitated the transportation of his cocaine shipments throughout Venezuela.”
Orense, arrested in Italy in May 2021, was extradited a year later in New York to face drug charges. U.S. officials investigating drug trafficking operations out of Venezuela told the Miami Herald at the time that Orense was considered one of the most important players in the drug trade. Cartel of the Suns operations.
According to the motion, Orense worked closely with a high-ranking member of the Venezuelan Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention, identified as “CC-1” – short for co-conspirator 1 – and with the head of the Directorate Venezuelan military intelligence. , identified as “CC-2”.
The drug proceeds, described as enormous in one of the documents, were then laundered through a US-based “Company-1” and 100% owned by a “Company-2” owned by to the Venezuelan State.
Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, lawyer for Venezuelan general Hugo Carvajal, who also faces drug charges in New York, said the Orense court document clearly shows that CC-2 is referring to his client, even if not directly mentioned by name.
He also said that “Company-2” refers to the oil company Citgo and that the document alleges that Carvajal was responsible for the appointment of “CC-4” (Luis Marín) as CEO of the American refining company in 2004. But prosecutors are wrong, Margulis-Ohnuma told the Herald in an email.
“Prosecutors appear to claim in their motion papers that General Carvajal and an anonymous drug dealer ‘arranged’ Luis Marin’s ascension to Citgo CEO in 2004, but a page later they refer to the same person who became CEO after a meeting with a drug trafficker. traffickers in 2005. Either way, the government is wrong: General Carvajal had nothing to do with corporate decisions at Citgo and only met Luis Marin years later,” said Margulis-Ohnuma.
The government’s motion also appears to indicate, the lawyer continued, that Carvajal was present at a party at Marin’s ranch in Venezuela attended by drug traffickers and where money laundering was discussed.
“This allegation is false. General Carvajal did not attend such a party, which appears to be a figment of the imagination of one of the DEA witnesses,” he said.
According to the charges, Orense owned and operated a series of cattle ranches in Venezuela where he stored tons of cocaine that he would ship north to the United States. To protect his shipments, he employed armed security teams, one of which was led by “CC-5,” who provided extensive details of the operation to prosecutors.
“CC-5 was present during dozens or hundreds of conversations between the defendant and his associates…regarding large-scale cocaine trafficking. These business associates included Venezuelan officials such as CC-1 and CC-2, in addition to Venezuelan drug traffickers such as (“CC-6”). When CC-5 worked for the defendant, the defendant purchased massive quantities of cocaine from supply sources located in or around Colombia and Venezuela,” the charging document states.
Orense then facilitated the transportation of cocaine by plane and boat across Central America and Mexico, as well as the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic, the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, so that the cocaine could be imported in the USA.
“On average, CC-5 recalls that the accused distributed approximately one ton of cocaine every week, for approximately ten months of the year, and not during the end-of-year holidays, i.e. 40 tons of cocaine per year,” specifies the document.
According to information provided by CC-5, planes loaded with drugs from Colombia landed on airstrips near the Venezuelan border, while security agents armed with AK-47 rifles stood guard, some carrying Venezuelan army uniforms.
At times, CC-5 reported observing FARC members on these airstrips. Once inside Venezuela, shipments were routed to several destinations. cattle ranches inside there were private airstrips. These were controlled by Orense, which was responsible for storing and then sending the shipments to Mexico or Central America for final distribution in the United States, the charging document states. Sometimes this was done using planes specially equipped for transporting cocaine, whose seats were removed to make room for additional fuel tanks to extend the plane’s flight time.
The document also claims that millions of dollars were paid to corrupt military officials to ensure the smooth running of the operation.
Orense “also engaged in massive corruption to ensure that its cocaine passed through Venezuela without police interference.” One of those bribed was a National Guard general, identified as CC-3, according to the prosecution.
“Around 2008 or 2009, the accused, accompanied by CC-5 and other members of his security detail, met CC-3 at a restaurant in Valencia, Venezuela. At the restaurant, the accused and CC-3 discussed money, and CC-3 seemed clearly dissatisfied with the topic of their discussion. The next day, the accused ordered CC-5 to bring two sports bags from an associate’s house to CC-3; the defendant told CC-5 to make the payment because he did not want any more problems,” the document states.
“CC-5 understood that this was a reference to the conversation the day before. CC 5 recovered the two bags, which were filled with US $20 bills and which, according to CC-5, contained several million dollars. CC-5 then handed the money to four men in an official vehicle registered by the National Guard,” the statement added.
Soon after, CC-3 helped Orense deal with unexpected problems.
One day, a truck carrying 1,000 kilograms of cocaine was stopped at a roadblock after the National Guardsmen had already been paid. CC-5, who was escorting the convoy, called Orense who told him that CC-3 would call him immediately. The general did so and asked C-5 to put the National Guard officer on the phone. He did so and, after a brief conversation, the truck was allowed to leave without inspection.