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Spain Rejects Extraditing Venezuela's Ex-Spymaster to US

Retired Maj. Gen. Hugo Carvajal speaks during an extradition hearing at the National Court in Madrid, Spain, Sept. 12, 2019.

Spain's National Court on Monday rejected the extradition to the United States of a former Venezuelan military spy chief accused of drug smuggling and other charges.

A court spokesman said that retired Maj. Gen. Hugo Carvajal, who claimed that the extradition request was politically motivated, would be released within hours of the decision.

A formal ruling is expected later, said the spokesman, who wasn't authorized to be identified by name in media reports.

Carvajal headed Venezuela's military intelligence agency for more than a decade and was a close aide to former Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez.

Earlier this year, he fled to Spain after publicly supporting the opposition in an effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

His lawyers told a court hearing last Thursday that the U.S. sought the extradition because the information Carvajal possesses from controlling the secrets of Venezuela's armed forces for so long had the potential to topple the current Venezuelan government.

Spanish and U.S. officials have cast doubts on Carvajal's claims to hold information that would be currently relevant, as he retired shortly after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro came to power in 2013.

The former general was arrested in Aruba in 2014 on another drug warrant, but authorities in the Dutch Caribbean island rejected extraditing him to the U.S. and sent him back to Caracas.

Prosecutors in New York say Carvajal should face trial for “narcoterrorism.” Investigators with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency say he used his post to coordinate the smuggling of around 5.6 tons of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico in 2006. He allegedly also used weapons to achieve his goals and aided and protected Colombian guerrillas, according to unsealed U.S. court documents.

Beginning in 2002, Carvajal worked his way up Venezuela's military intelligence division, becoming one of the closest aides and confidants of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He was demoted months after Maduro came to power.

When Carvajal publicly backed Maduro's opponents earlier this year, he fled to Madrid, where Spanish intelligence officials initially welcomed him. But police arrested the former spy chief in mid-April after the U.S. issued a drug warrant.