Mérida, October 25, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Spanish judicial authorities have temporarily halted Hugo Carvajal’s extradition to the United States.
Known as “El Pollo,” Venezuela’s former intelligence chief’s expected extradition on Saturday was suspended due to a “material error in the writing up of the case” and is due to proceed once the error is corrected. It comes after Madrid rejected a similar extradition request from Caracas last month.
In March 2020, the US Justice Department indicted Carvajal of conspiring to "flood the United States with cocaine.” He also faces charges of illegal weapon possession and faces up to a life sentence if convicted. He described his situation as “surreal” last month.
A longtime official under the Hugo Chávez governments, Carvajal publicly broke with the Bolivarian process in 2017 before declaring himself a “soldier” of self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó’s cause in 2019. The former lawmaker and army general became an outspoken critic of the Nicolás Maduro government, which he describes as “betraying” Chávez’s legacy. Carvajal even went as far as calling for the armed forces to stage a coup in 2019.
The former intelligence chief claims to be in possession of “valuable information” allegedly incriminating the Maduro government and entourage and reports to have shared it with the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC is currently considering opening an investigation into the Maduro government for alleged crimes against humanity.
Carvajal fled Venezuela in February 2019 after backing Guaidó, who promised immunity for military personnel supporting his cause. Nonetheless, he was arrested in Spain in April but managed to escape and go into hiding ahead of an extradition attempt on prior drug trafficking charges from Washington. He later argued this move was necessary to “protest irregularities in the extradition proceedings” and “political pressure” from US authorities on Spain’s courts. He was detained once more on September 9, 2021 by DEA agents in Madrid despite having undergone plastic surgery to hide his identity.
Spanish courts have rejected previous efforts to block the extradition, with the Venezuelan’s defense team stating that he will not face a fair trial in the US and that his alleged crimes are of a military and not civilian nature. The former intelligence officer has said that Washington does not possess sufficient elements to justify extradition.
Carvajal has previously claimed to “trust” the Spanish judicial system and has attempted to stay on Spanish soil by offering information to authorities concerning alleged illegal Venezuelan funding to Spain’s leftist PODEMOS party, which is currently being investigated. However, Madrid recently denied him asylum status.
This was not the first time Carvajal has tussled with law enforcement, having been temporarily detained on the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba in 2014. At the time, Venezuela’s then-consul general to Aruba received the full backing of the Maduro government which accused Washington of being behind the move.
Since his recent arrest and with his imminent extradition, however, the Maduro administration has not commented on the case.
For his part, government Lawmaker Diosdado Cabello, who has exchanged mutual accusations with Carvajal of “betraying” Venezuela, told reporters last month that “Carvajal is yours [the opposition], not ours [Chavismo]. Do what you want with him.” Guaidó has since promised to “fulfill [his] responsibilities” concerning the case.
Venezuelan authorities have previously dismissed a host of US “narco-terrorism” accusations levied against both President Maduro and a range of other officials as “racist cowboy methods.” US agency data shows that only a fraction of drug routes stemming from Colombia cross Venezuela, with most entering the US via the Pacific and Central America.
Washington makes more money laundering indictments
Carvajal is due to be the second high-profile Venezuelan extradited to the United States of late, following the “kidnapping” of government contractor Alex Saab earlier this month in Cape Verde.
Caracas’ trade envoy is being charged with money laundering and conspiracy to launder by a Florida court and is also considered to be carrying key information concerning the inner workings of the Maduro administration and its efforts to counter Washington’s blockade.
Saab’s reported business partner Álvaro Pulido was also targeted by Washington this week, with US judicial authorities offering a US $10 million bounty for information leading to his arrest. As with Saab, Pulido is charged with money laundering in relation to a number of Venezuelan government contracts.
Former government minister and Táchira state governor, José Vielma Mora, was likewise incriminated by US authorities on Thursday alongside two Colombians and one other Venezuelan supposedly connected to Saab’s “money laundering ring.”
The five people are accused of illicitly receiving around US $1.6 billion from the Venezuelan government, of which US $180 million was reportedly transferred to unspecified accounts in the United States. The whereabouts of Pulido, as well as of Emmanuel Rubio Gonzalez, Carlos Lizcano, and Ana Luis, respectively, are unknown, while Mora has not commented on the accusations.