Spanish Court Calls U.S. Extradition Request Politically Motivated

MADRID — Spain rejected a United States request to extradite Hugo Carvajal, the former intelligence chief of Venezuela, because the request was politically motivated, a Spanish court said on Tuesday.

The court ruling also said the drug trafficking charges leveled against Mr. Carvajal were too “abstract,” and lacking sufficient detail.

At his extradition hearing in Madrid earlier this month, Mr. Carvajal’s lawyers argued that the United States wanted to extradite Mr. Carvajal for “a spurious purpose” — to make him stand trial for drug trafficking — while their main goal was to get information from him about President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.

The Trump administration has been trying to get Mr. Maduro to relinquish power after winning re-election in a vote that many believed was flawed. The United States, and several other Western governments, are instead supporting Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader, who claimed victory in Venezuela’s presidential election. But Mr. Maduro so far has resisted efforts to oust him.

The court agreed with the defense contention, saying the extradition request fit “within the American political strategy toward Venezuela.”

Mr. Carvajal denied all wrongdoing.

The Trump administration is also fighting accusations that its request to extradite a Chinese technology executive from Canada is politically motivated.

In that case, Canadian officials arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese tech giant Huawei, at the request of the United States. Ms. Meng has been accused of fraudulently deceiving four banks so that the company could evade American sanctions against Iran.

Her lawyers are arguing that the extradition request is politically motivated. Mr. Trump may have helped them in their argument because he said he was willing to intercede in the matter if that helped resolve trade tensions with China. The case is still before a court in Vancouver, British Columbia.

In Mr. Carvajal’s case, Spanish legal experts said it was unusual for an extradition request from the United States to be rejected, particularly from a European ally like Spain, which has close ties with the United States, including two military bases on which the American presence has expanded in recent years.

But the experts suggested that in the request to extradite Mr. Carvajal, the United States had not provided strong enough evidence of drug trafficking by Mr. Carvajal, instead highlighting his broader role as spymaster and a major player in the Venezuelan military.

ImageIn a recent extradition hearing in Madrid, Mr. Carvajal denied wrongdoing and told Spain’s national court that the drug charges against him were fabricated and politically motivated.
CreditPool photo by Emilio Naranjo

“It is very difficult to reject an American extradition request, so this ruling can certainly be called exceptional,” said Martín Palladino, a Spanish lawyer and professor of criminal law. “America has an incredible track record in extradition cases, so somebody in the Trump administration should have been able to forewarn that this request was simply not solid enough.”

The United States can appeal the Spanish court’s decision on Mr. Carvajal. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which handled the case against Mr. Carvajal, said it would not comment on whether there would be an appeal.

While Mr. Carvajal was released from a penitentiary near Madrid on Monday, the court ordered him to remain on Spanish soil and report every 15 days to the Spanish authorities during the appeal process.

Mr. Carvajal, known by the nickname “El Pollo,” or “The Chicken,” in Venezuela, was detained in Madrid in April on an arrest warrant issued by the United States that accused him of facilitating drug trafficking, as well as providing illegal support to the FARC rebel group in Colombia.

In charges filed in federal court in New York, the United States said that in April 2006, Mr. Carvajal coordinated the transportation of 5,600 kilograms, or about 6.2 tons, of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico that was bound for America.

According to the Spanish court, the United States said in its extradition request that Mr. Carvajal took part directly in some cocaine shipments and also played an important role in providing a security apparatus for the illegal transport of the cocaine.

The United States also argued that Mr. Carvajal formed part of a drug cartel known as Los Soles, or The Suns, which not only aimed to make its members wealthy but also “used cocaine as a weapon against the United States,” aware of the broader social damage that the drug could cause in America, the court ruling said.

The United States said Mr. Carvajal was a member of the drug cartel from at least 1999 to 2019, working with terrorists and other drug traffickers across Latin America to “flood” the American market by sending thousands of kilos of cocaine from Venezuela to the United States, according to the court ruling.

If convicted, he would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life. In Tuesday’s ruling, however, the Spanish court noted that the 2006 shipment was the only detailed example of drug trafficking that the United States provided to support its extradition claim.

Mr. Carvajal served for several years as military intelligence chief under Hugo Chávez, the former leader of Venezuela. He was also a lawmaker in the ruling Socialist party before a fallout with Mr. Maduro, who succeeded Mr. Chávez.

After this year’s presidential election, the former spy leader fled, first to the Dominican Republic and then to Spain, where several members of the opposition and defecting members of the Socialist party have sought refuge as Venezuela’s political situation spiraled out of control. He was detained in Spain while using a fake identity.

Source: NYT

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