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Hugo Carvajal, the former director of Venezuela’s military intelligence and a high-profile critic of the Nicolás Maduro regime, has been arrested in Spain and is awaiting extradition to the United States on drug charges, U.S. authorities said Friday.
Carvajal has been in the U.S. crosshairs since at least 2014 on allegations that he helped Colombian drug cartels operate out of Venezuela, but he stepped into the spotlight earlier this year when he broke with Maduro and threw his support behind interim President Juan Guaidó — the man whom Washington and more than 50 other nations recognize as president.
Carvajal’s detention comes at a tricky time for Guaidó — who has been promising military officials who defect from Maduro that they would receive amnesty for some of their crimes. Carvajal is one of the few high-ranking officials to openly break with Maduro, although the crimes he’s accused of wouldn’t have fallen under the amnesty program.
Carvajal has slipped U.S. law enforcement officials before. In 2014, he was briefly detained by the government of Aruba but successfully fought off the U.S. extradition request.
Spanish police on Friday confirmed to The Associated Press that Carvajal had been detained.
According to a U.S. indictment from the Southern District of Florida unsealed in 2014, Carvajal is accused of helping Colombia’s North Valley Cartel, including drug don Wílber “Jabón” Valera, move its trafficking empire to Venezuela in 2004. Valera was killed there in 2008.
In exchange for bribes, Carvajal and others provided information about military and police investigations that helped Varela export cocaine to the United States, according to the indictment. The document also alleges that Carvajal was responsible for selling hundreds of kilograms of cocaine to factions of the North Valley Cartel. He’s also accused of coordinating the shipment of 5.6 tons of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico.
In addition to the South Florida case, Carvajal was charged in a federal drug-trafficking indictment filed in the Southern District of New York. Prosecutors in New York plan to seek his extradition.
Carvajal, a congressman and longtime confidant of the late President Hugo Chávez, is thought to have information that would be damaging to the Maduro government. Venezuela’s military has long been suspected of being involved in the drug trade, and a handful of military officials are on the U.S. Treasury Department’s drug kingpin blacklist.