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Venezuela Frees Dominican Wanted by U.S.

March 29, 2006

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Venezuela has freed a Dominican man wanted in the U.S. on drug charges, saying there was no guarantee U.S. authorities would agree to terms for his extradition.

Judge Hector Coronado Flores dismissed a previous order to extradite Mateo Holguin Ovalle and ruled that he be released, the Supreme Court said Monday in a statement.

The decision derailed a case cited earlier by American officials as a prime example of cooperation with Venezuela in the drug war. The two countries now are in a dispute over how to resume joint counter-trafficking efforts suspended since President Hugo Chavez last August accused Drug Enforcement Administration agents of spying.

American authorities allege Holguin Ovalle, arrested in 2003 after being indicted in the U.S. on charges of conspiring to import cocaine, directed a major drug ring that transported cocaine and heroin into the United States.

The Venezuela court previously authorized Holguin Ovalle’s extradition on the condition that he not be sentenced to more than 30 years in prison.

``Since the term of punishment to be imposed on Mateo Juan Holguin Ovalle could not be guaranteed, the extradition ordered cannot be carried out,″ Coronado Flores ruled.

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas and the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington did not immediately comment on the decision.

Hundreds of tons of Colombian cocaine cross Venezuela’s porous borders each year, the State Department said March 1 in its annual narcotics report, citing ``rampant corruption at the highest levels of law enforcement and a weak judicial system.″ The U.S. no longer considers Vezezuela an ally in the war on drugs, the report says.

Chavez defended Venezuela anti-drug efforts Tuesday, saying the military is eradicating fields of opium poppies along the border with Colombia.

The president also accused the U.S. of holding ``a dictatorship″ within the United Nations and predicted that the world would eventually revolt against U.S. hegemony.

``Sooner of later, we, the people, the nations, will break this scheme imposed in the United Nations so there are truly free and united countries, not the dictatorship there in the United Nations against the nations and people of the world,″ he said.

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