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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Spain Arrests Former Venezuela Spy Chief Accused of Drug Trafficking


MADRID — Venezuela’s former intelligence chief has been arrested for the second time in Madrid, nearly two years after evading extradition to the United States to face drug-trafficking charges.

Hugo Carvajal, the former spy chief, was apprehended late Thursday by Spanish police, who tweeted a video of his arrest. According to the police, Mr. Carvajal had been living “fully shut-in” in an undisclosed location in Madrid, relying on the assistance of unidentified allies.

Mr. Carvajal was a prominent figure in Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government before abruptly departing. In February 2019, he released a video accusing Mr. Maduro of running a corrupt dictatorship whose top officials were involved in drug trafficking.

He fled to Spain, where he was detained in April 2019 on the basis of the American extradition request, but was later released from a Spanish prison after a court ruled that the request was too “abstract” to establish his involvement in drug trafficking.

Prosecutors were successful in their appeal, but Mr. Carvajal went missing, causing a diplomatic headache for Spain and adding another twist to the long cat-and-mouse game to bring Mr. Carvajal to justice.

Mr. Carvajal, also known as “El Pollo,” or “The Chicken,” served as Venezuela’s military intelligence chief for several years under former President Hugo Chávez. Before his abrupt fallout with Mr. Maduro, Mr. Chávez’s successor, he was also a lawmaker in the ruling Socialist Party.

Mr. Carvajal urged the military to support Mr. Maduro’s main rival, Juan Guaidó. Mr. Guaidó was then recognised as Venezuela’s legitimate president by the US and several other Western governments, but Mr. Maduro has remained in power despite his country’s economic problems spiralling in recent years.

According to charges filed in federal court in New York, Mr. Carvajal coordinated the transportation of 5.6 metric tonnes, or approximately 6.2 US tonnes, of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico in April 2006. If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum of ten years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Mr. Carvajal denied involvement in drug trafficking in a February 2019 interview with The New York Times. Following his detention in Spain and during his extradition hearing, he and his lawyers claimed that the drug charges were fabricated and that the case brought by the US was politically motivated.

In recent years, Spain has become one of the main safe havens for Venezuelan opposition members and defecting Socialist Party members fleeing the country’s political and economic turmoil. Among them are opposition leader Leopoldo López, who has been under house arrest in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, for several years, and Antonio Ledezma, a former mayor of Caracas who fled to Madrid in 2017.

Venezuela is set to hold elections in November, and the main opposition parties have recently announced that they will participate after boycotting previous elections.

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