Venezuelan ex-spy chief Hugo Carvajal pleads not guilty in drug trafficking charges

Former Venezuelan intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal stands during his extradition hearing to U.S. at the High Court in Madrid, Spain, September 12, 2019. — Twitter/Reuters

After being extradited from Spain, former Venezuelan military intelligence director Hugo Carvajal pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges pressed by the US Thursday, as Washington seeks to try him on US soil, Reuters reported.

The 63-year-old landed in the US Wednesday after his extradition from Spain and entered the plea in a hearing before US Magistrate Judge Stewart Aaron in Manhattan federal court.

Court ordered his arrest and his next appearance is scheduled for July 25.

Carvajal’s lawyer, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, said he “would submit an application for his client to be released on bail at a later date,” adding that Carvajal was “categorically innocent” of the charges.

“General Carvajal looks forward to fighting these outrageous charges in court before an unbiased American jury,” Margulis-Ohnuma told journalists.

Federal prosecutors stated that Carvajal — who was a close aide to President Hugo Chavez — in 2006 coordinated the shipment of 5,600 kg (1,235 pounds) of cocaine to Mexico from Venezuela which was bound for the US.

This picture shows Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) and Venezuelan retired Major General Hugo Carvajal (R) during a congress in Caracas. — AFP/File
This picture shows Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) and Venezuelan retired Major General Hugo Carvajal (R) during a congress in Caracas. — AFP/File

Nicknamed ‘El Pollo’, the chicken, Carvajal took part in the failed 1992 coup that lifted Chavez to political prominence and is considered one of the most powerful figures of the socialist leader’s 1999-2013 rule.

Relations between Washington and Caracas deteriorated when Chavez and his successor, incumbent President Nicolas Maduro came to power. 

Dozens of Venezuelan military leaders, politicians and businessmen have been charged by the US with drug trafficking and malpractices.

Carvajal was first arrested in 2014 in Aruba, a semi-autonomous Dutch Caribbean island where Venezuela had been trying to accredit him as consul. 

He was released and returned to Venezuela after the Netherlands government ruled he had diplomatic immunity, which was regarded as disappointing and disturbing by US State Department.

In 2017, Hugo Carvajal parted ways with Maduro by opposing the creation of an all-powerful legislature.

In 2019, after Washington recognised an opposition leader as Venezuela’s legitimate ruler — in a failed attempt to oust Maduro — Carvajal released a video urging the military to facilitate the “return to democracy.”

Later, he was detained in Spain on US drug charges later that same year but went into hiding after a court initially approved his extradition. He was re-arrested in 2021.

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