Venezuelan General Arrested in Aruba, U.S. Will Seek Extradition

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Kudos to U.S. federal prosecutors and diplomats.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Retired Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal Detained on U.S. Petition

U.S. Alleges Carvajal Has Ties to Drug Trafficking, Colombian Marxist Rebels

A former chief of Venezuelan military intelligence, accused by the U.S. of cocaine trafficking and collaborating with Colombian Marxist rebels, was detained in Aruba at the American government's behest, officials in the Caribbean island and the U.S. said on Thursday.

Hugo Carvajal, a retired military general who was awaiting confirmation as President Nicolás Maduro's consul-general to Aruba, is the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to be arrested on a U.S. warrant.

The detention stands to deepen already strained ties between the U.S. and Venezuela, which has frequently accused Washington of vilifying Venezuelan officials as drug traffickers and plotting to overthrow its government.

A team of investigators in the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District in New York worked to build the case against Mr. Carvajal, who they allege helped traffickers bring drugs into the U.S.

A former Colombian official who also knows about the allegations against Mr. Carvajal said the U.S. is investigating other Venezuelan officials for allegedly helping traffickers smuggle drugs into the U.S. and collaborating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Mr. Carvajal was in a police lockup in Aruba on Thursday evening and unable to comment. In the past, he has denied U.S. government accusations of wrongdoing. The Venezuelan government called for his release, saying that Mr. Carvajal's detention was unlawful and warning that tiny Aruba, which is just 17 miles away, could suffer economic consequences.

Mr. Carvajal had long been targeted by American and Colombian investigators for what they called his active role in shipping Colombian cocaine through Venezuela and on to the U.S.

In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department put him on a blacklist that prohibited any American entity from doing business with him, alleging that he had protected FARC drug shipments and provided the rebel group with weapons and logistical help. The State Department has classified the FARC as a terrorist group, and many of its leaders are wanted in the U.S.

Part of the purported evidence against Mr. Carvajal, as well as two other high-ranking Venezuelan officials blacklisted by the Treasury Department, had come from messages and memos that Colombia's government said that its commandos found in computer hard drives they recovered from a FARC camp after they bombed it.

In one 2007 missive by the FARC's Luciano Marín, the rebel commander recounted how Mr. Carvajal would be delivering "very powerful bazookas," what intelligence officials believed were rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Documents found in the computer hard drives also purport to show how Mr. Carvajal provided rebel leaders with an Israeli sniper rifle, ammunition and a box of Russian grenades.

According to the files, which were viewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Carvajal also urged the FARC, which also operates inside Venezuela, to stop indiscriminately kidnapping Venezuelan citizens. He suggested that his government could help the FARC find suitable targets among Venezuela's elites.

Venezuelan government officials, as well as the FARC, said that the documents were forged by Colombian intelligence officials. But an Interpol investigation found no evidence of tampering after studying the computer hard drives, and rebel deserters backed up many of the allegations.

In 2011, the U.S. added a top Venezuelan general, two lawmakers and a leading intelligence official to the Treasury blacklist, also accusing them of drug smuggling and assisting the FARC.

Mr. Carvajal, a wiry former general who was a top aide to former President Hugo Chávez, was detained Wednesday night by the authorities at the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Oranjestad, Aruba, which is part of the Netherlands.

In its statement about the case, Venezuela's foreign ministry said the government "energetically rejects the illegal and arbitrary detention of the Venezuelan diplomatic official." Venezuela also characterized the arrest of Mr. Carvajal by Dutch authorities as a violation of a 1961 international convention governing diplomatic relations.

"The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela issues a firm call for the Kingdom of the Netherlands to rectify this unjust and unfair act," the statement said.

Aruba Prosecutor Peter Blanken told local media on the island that the U.S. had requested Mr. Carvajal's arrest on July 4.

Mr. Carvajal, whose nickname is "el Pollo," or "the Chicken," carries a diplomatic passport, but doesn't have diplomatic immunity because he hasn't been confirmed as consul general, said Ann Angela, spokeswoman for Aruba's prosecutor general's office. She declined to give details on why the arrest order was carried out now, citing privacy concerns.

The U.S. plans to formally solicit extradition, but the process is expected to take time, a U.S. official said. The State Department has 60 days to make an official request, Ms. Angela said.

The U.S. and the Netherlands work closely together on counterdrug operations, patrolling the Caribbean and targeting suspected kingpins.

Mr. Carvajal met with prosecutors on Thursday, and will face a judge on Friday who will determine whether his detention complies with international treaties, Ms. Angela said.

The U.S. Treasury's blacklist often targets suspected major narcotics traffickers and terrorist organizations. Under the designation, any assets Mr. Carvajal owned in the U.S. would have been frozen.