On Monday 16 September, Spain’s highest criminal court (“Audiencia National”) ordered the release of Major General Hugo Carvajal, the former intelligence chief of Venezuela, after it rejected an American request to extradite him to the US on charges of drug trafficking.
Mr Carvajal served as military intelligence chief for several years under Hugo Chávez, the former Venezuelan leader. He subsequently served as a lawmaker in the ruling Socialist party before a fallout with the current leader Nicolás Maduro. Earlier this year, Mr Carvajal fled to the Dominican Republic and then to Spain after denouncing Mr Maduro and coming out in support of opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
In April, Mr Carvajal was arrested in Spain in response to a US extradition request stemming from a 2011 indictment filed in New York accusing Mr Carvajal of coordinating the transport of more than 5.6 tonnes of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico, while on its way to the US. The charges carry a sentence of between ten years and life imprisonment under US law.
The Spanish court, refusing to order extradition, declared the request to be politically motivated. The court described the underlying drug trafficking charged as too “abstract” and lacking in sufficient detail. Mr Carvajal’s lawyers had argued that the US wanted to extradite him for the “spurious” purpose of the drug trafficking allegations while their primary goal was to obtain information from him relating to President Maduro. The US and several other western governments have publicly come out in support of opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
The Spanish court accepted the Mr Carvajal’s submissions on this matter saying the extradition request was in line with “the American political strategy toward Venezuela”. The US can appeal the request, but the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York has not yet commented as to whether this is an avenue the government would pursue.