Venezuela’s former spy chief has pleaded not guilty in a United States court to charges he coordinated international drug trafficking while in office.
The 63-year-old Hugo Carvajal had served as former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s eyes and ears in the country’s military from 2004 to 2011.
US federal prosecutors said, during that time, he facilitated the shipment of thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico, where it was ultimately sent to the US.
“Carvajal abandoned his responsibility to the people of Venezuela and exploited his position for personal gain,” US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief Anne Milgram said in a statement upon his extradition. “DEA and our partners stand united to bring to justice anyone, in any position, who endangers the safety and health of the American people.”
Carvajal’s appearance in New York federal court on Thursday marked the culmination of more than 10 years of effort by the Department of Justice to bring him to US soil.
The charges against him include participating in a narco-terrorism conspiracy, conspiring to import cocaine to the US and conspiring to use, carry or possess “machine guns and destructive devices” in connection with the cocaine trafficking.
Carvajal was first arrested in 2014 in Aruba, a semi-autonomous Dutch Caribbean island. He was later released and returned to Venezuela after the Netherlands ruled he had diplomatic immunity. At the time, the US Department of State decried the decision, calling it disappointing and disturbing.
In 2019, he was again arrested, this time in Spain, on US drug charges, but he went into hiding after a court initially approved his extradition. He was re-arrested in 2021.
Following his extradition on Wednesday, US prosecutors released a statement explaining that Carvajal — as far back as 1999 — served as one of the “leaders and managers” of the so-called Cartel of the Suns, a group of officials that oversaw drug trafficking.
The cartel’s name is a reference to the sun insignia affixed to the uniforms of Venezuelan military officers.
Prosecutors said Carvajal partnered with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group to set up the cocaine trafficking network. At the time, the prosecutors explained, FARC was responsible for cocaine production across swathes of Colombia and Venezuela.
One shipment alone contained 5.6 tonnes of cocaine, flown on board a private jet from Venezuela to Mexico in 2006, according to prosecutors. Mexican authorities intercepted the cocaine upon arrival.
Nicknamed “El Pollo” — “The Chicken” — Carvajal had also taken part in the failed 1992 coup that facilitated Chavez’s rise to political prominence. He was widely considered to be one of the most powerful figures to serve under the socialist leader.
Carvajal later broke with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor.
He threw his support instead behind US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido and released a video from an undisclosed location in 2019 calling on the military to rise up against Maduro. His appeal went unanswered.
Source : Al Jazeera