Venezuela

Former spy chief in Venezuela to be extradited to U.S. to face drug-trafficking charges

Hugo Carvajal, Venezuela’s former intelligence chief, during better times with leader Nicolás Maduro. Carvajal will be extradited to the U.S. to face drug-trafficking charges
Hugo Carvajal, Venezuela’s former intelligence chief, during better times with leader Nicolás Maduro. Carvajal will be extradited to the U.S. to face drug-trafficking charges AFP/Getty Images

Hugo Carvajal, the former intelligence chief of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez who was arrested in Spain, will be extradited in a few weeks to the United States, where he faces drug trafficking charges, and the authorities anticipate that he may spill the darkest secrets of Chavismo in exchange for a reduced sentence, sources close to the case said.

Carvajal, who led the dreaded Directorate of Military Counterintelligence for a decade, is considered a living encyclopedia of the illicit business of the Nicolás Maduro regime, and his testimony could directly involve the leader himself, as well as the No. 2 and No. 3 of the regime, Diosdado Cabello and Tarek El Aissami.

Carvajal “is not fighting extradition. The process has taken place smoothly in Spain, without any delay,” said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Even though the process is currently in the hands of a Spanish judge, U.S. authorities expect Carvajal to be sent to the United States in a matter of months, the source added.

The former Venezuelan general is accused of drug trafficking in two separate cases — one in South Florida, the other in New York City.

A former senior U.S. official said Carvajal had already made contact with representatives in Washington and had begun collaborating with the efforts of the Donald Trump administration to replace Maduro with the interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó.

”He was already cooperating with the United States and, in fact, in the matter of Guaidó, he was one of the officers who started talking to the other generals to convince them to support the interim president,” said the former official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

“What was sought was a coup d’état. But when he realized that it wasn’t going to be that way ... he went to Spain and that’s where he was arrested,” he added.

Carvajal was arrested by the Madrid authorities in April at the request of U.S. prosecutors.

Experts have described Carvajal as the man who literally knows too much and who could become one of the most important witnesses in Venezuelan criminal history.

As director of military intelligence, Carvajal spied on all the members of the regime for more than a decade, documenting any criminal activities in files that could be used against them in case their loyalty was questioned.

”They arrested the man who has more information, collected for 12 consecutive years, of all the criminal activities of the Chávez regime,” said Martin Rodil, a security adviser on Venezuelan issues, last April.

“He built intelligence records on all criminal activities that the regime has been involved in since the time of Chávez — be it drug trafficking, arms trafficking, human trafficking, corruption and money laundering. He has the details on all the players and all the crimes committed during the era of Chávez and Maduro,” said Rodil, an expert on the criminal operations of the Bolivarian regime.

That database built by Carvajal is of particular interest to U.S. intelligence agencies.

In theory, Carvajal could provide all the information needed to complement cases of drug trafficking, corruption and money laundering carried out in other jurisdictions, causing a blow to the machinery of some of the most powerful figures in Venezuela, including Maduro as well as former Chávez vice president El Aissami and the president of the National Constituent Assembly, Cabello.

“If he decides to cooperate, he would become the biggest threat against Venezuelan officials who were involved in all these crimes. Not only because he is a firsthand witness, but he also has the databases with contemporary documentation at the time the crimes were committed,” Rodil said.

Experts have pointed out that Carvajal has an incentive to collaborate with prosecutors, because cooperation could mean a few years behind bars rather than a life sentence.

Carvajal had been targeted by U.S. prosecutors since authorities determined he had become one of the main links between the Chávez government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

In 2008, Carvajal was blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department for protecting drug shipments from the FARC and for granting the guerrillas Venezuelan identification documents that gave them free access to travel around the country.

Subsequently, the former Venezuelan general was accused of drug trafficking in two separate cases.

According to the New York prosecutor’s office, the former military intelligence chief coordinated the shipment of 5.6 tons of cocaine, found in Mexico inside a DC-9 plane that departed from Venezuela in 2006, in a case that also involves suspected drug trafficker Walid Makled.

Prosecutors in South Florida accuse the former major general of assisting in the operations in Venezuela of the North Valley cartel, and in particular the Colombian drug trafficker Wilber Alirio Varela Fajardo, before his death in the Venezuelan city of Mérida in 2008.

Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter: @DelgadoAntonioM

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