January 28, 2020 / 4:29 PM / a month ago

Venezuelan police capture fugitive Colombian senator who fled via dentist's office

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan special police detained a fugitive Colombian former senator who had illegally crossed the border, the force’s chief said, four months after she escaped custody by climbing out of her dentist’s office in Bogota.

Aida Merlano, a former Conservative senator who was imprisoned last year for vote buying, made her theatrical escape in October, lowering herself with a rope and fleeing on the back of a delivery motorcycle. Security footage of her flight was a sensation on social media.

Jose Dominguez, head of Venezuela’s FAES Special Action Force, wrote on his Instagram account late on Monday that officers detained her in the city of Maracaibo, capital of western Zulia state by the Colombian border.

Dominguez posted a photo of Merlano with her back turned, alongside an unidentified Colombian man, standing in front of what appeared to be two blond wigs and several ID cards.

Colombia’s Justice Ministry said on Tuesday it had learned of Merlano’s capture in Maracaibo via intelligence sources and had asked Interpol, the international police agency, to confirm the arrest.

The ministry said in a statement that it would request Merlano’s extradition via Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who Colombia recognises as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state. Colombia does not have diplomatic relations with President Nicolas Maduro’s “dictatorial regime,” it said.

It is not clear how Guaido would process an extradition request given that Maduro retains control of most government functions, including the police and judiciary.

Guaido declared himself interim president last January, denouncing Maduro as a usurper who had secured re-election in a fraudulent 2018 election. Some 50 other nations support Guaido’s claim, but a U.S.-backed campaign to topple Maduro has so far been unsuccessful.

Reporting by Angus Berwick and Vivian Sequera in Caracas and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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