U.S. authorities hoping to try a former Venezuelan spymaster on drug trafficking charges had their hopes dashed Thursday, at least for the moment.
In a Spanish courtroom Thursday, Hugo Carvajal Barrios formally declared he’d fight extradition to the United States, where he faces narco-terrorism charges.
Not only would the United States like to prosecute Carvajal, but they’d like to grill him on what he knows about his former high-level associates in Caracas.
“I do not have confidence in the U.S. justice,” Carvajal told the court, according to the Spanish news agency EFE.
Anyone who could testify in his favor, he said, is “sanctioned or have [had] their visa taken away in Venezuela, others are imprisoned in Mexico and others dead, as is the case of [former] President [Hugo] Chávez, who gave me direct orders.”
Carvajal said he feared reprisals from the administration of current President Nicolás Maduro and said he was willing to collaborate with Spanish authorities about Venezuela’s ties to Hezbollah, the Lebanese organization the United States has labeled a terror group.
Carvajal was arrested April 12 by Spanish authorities as he entered under a false name after fleeing Venezuela despite holding a legislative seat there.
U.S. prosecutors in New York filed a sealed indictment in 2011 against Carvajal, 59, for alleged drug trafficking. He had already been placed on a Treasury Department sanctions list in 2008.
The new 16-page superseding indictment gives government prosecutors a stronger hand if they seek cooperation against other top Venezuelan leaders, including Maduro.
The superseding indictment was issued three days after Carvajal’s arrest in Spain and accuses him of supplying sophisticated weapons to a Colombian terror group. It also accuses him of being a member of the notorious Venezuelan Cartel de Los Soles, or Cartel of the Suns.
And that’s where the stronger narco-terror charges come into play.
“The best legal option Carvajal has is to negotiate an agreement with the prosecution. That’s why the government is throwing the whole book at him,” said Félix Jiménez, a former chief inspector for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “He currently has two alternatives: cooperate or spend the rest of his days in jail.”
The U.S. Justice Department has employed narco-terror charges mostly against smaller players in the drug trade, often using them as a club to compel cooperation and a plea agreement.
That happened after the DOJ’s Southern District of New York brought charges against Greek national Ioannis Viglakis, charged with narco-terrorism in 2013. He was arrested in Panama and later pleaded guilty to providing material support to Colombian guerrillas, admitting he tried to sell rocket-propelled grenade launchers to an undercover DEA agent.
Carvajal would likely be the highest former government official to stand trial under a narco-terror charge.