Court papers reveal that Luisa Ortega Díaz was ready to certify at the Spanish justice the lack of formal charges in Venezuela against the ex-chief of Venezuela’s Military Intelligence
A barely known yet fairly surprising endeavor is among the multiple efforts made by the attorneys of Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios, aka “El Pollo,” the former director of Venezuela’s Military Intelligence (DIM), to impede his extradition from Spain to the United States over drug traffic charges.
According to one of the lawyers acting on behalf of Carvajal Barrios, the Venezuelan Attorney General in exile, Luisa Ortega Díaz, prepared to confirm that there were not pending charges against Carvajal Barrios in Venezuela for any kind of crimes attributed to him in the United States. The United States Government is offering $10,000,000 for the information leading to the arrest of him.
In a memo furnished on August 29, 2019 to the Spanish National High Court, Ismael Oliver, formerly an attorney of Carvajal Barrios, affirmed that during a telephone conference, Ortega Díaz told him that “no elements have been found as to commence an action against Mr. Carvajal Barrios.”
The Office of the Attorney General arrived at such a conclusion after “a number of proceedings that took some time,” Oliver said in his writ.
According to the attorney, Ortega Díaz was “ready to certify such information if requested by the Spanish court authority.”
Ortega Díaz’s willingness to support one of the officials protected with great zeal by the Venezuelan government over the past few years because of his secrets, contrasts with her international campaign, launched in exile against corruption and human rights abuses of Nicolás Maduro’s regime.
Venezuelan opposition leaders doubt that Carvajal Barrios had been subject to an investigation into his links with drug traffic, considering his enormous clout in the field of Intelligence, his well-kept secrets, and his close friendship with late President Hugo Chávez.
José De Jesús Palmar, a Venezuelan priest that reported for years the interference of drug traffic in the Venezuelan armed forces, was surprised at learning about the allegations of the former Attorney General, as he personally appeared at the Office of the Attorney General in 2007 to produce evidence against Hugo Carvajal Barrios.
“On August 7, 2007, we furnished Venezuelan prosecutors -Ortega Díaz was not the Attorney General at that time- with lot of materials, including the facts surrounding the case, to demonstrate Carvajal Barrios’ relationship with drug traffickers,” Palmar recalled.
“If she could not find any item of proof against Hugo Carvajal, that was because the case files were removed or simply hidden, yet denying the existence of evidence is ludicrous,” the priest reasoned.
Palmar has been in exile in the United States since 2018, when he fled Venezuela after death threats and torture.
The Spanish police has been chasing Carvajal Barrios since November 8, 2019, when the Spanish justice granted his extradition to the United States. On September 2020, law enforcement officers headed for Carvajal Barrios’ place of residence in Madrid, where he had settled down since his release. It was to no avail, he vanished without trace.
In an initial interview with a reporter of this media outlet, Oliver said that the former Attorney General volunteered to help Carvajal during a visit to Madrid ahead of a meeting with European Union officials in Brussels, where she planned to file a formal accusation against Maduro’s regime. As written down by Oliver in his report, the European Union recognizes Ortega Díaz as the legitimate Attorney General of Venezuela.
“She advised me personally, in my office, to ask for it (the letter of confirmation) and she would provide it… so, I requested it from the court,” Oliver related. ITEMP tried to get further comments for this report, but the lawyer declined. For her part, Ortega Díaz, in exile in Colombia, disavowed as untrue the statements made in Oliver’s papers. However, none of the public documents related to the case in Spain contains any disaffirmation by the Attorney General of her reported advocacy of Carvajal Barrios.
Ortega Díaz “did not receive any notice and she has not seen such a document containing such quotes,” in order to belie them, said a spokesman of the Attorney General.
A long-standing affair
In Venezuela, the suspected complicity of Carvajal Barrios with drug traffickers dates back to 2010. At that time, Walid Makled, aka “El Turco,” a prominent Venezuelan drug trafficker nowadays imprisoned in Caracas, claimed to have had the then chief of Venezuela’s Military Intelligence in his payroll to handle cocaine shipments. That year, Ortega Díaz was the incumbent Attorney General.
Based on an indictment at the United States District Court in the Southern District, Carvajal Barrios protected drug traffickers beginning in 1999, through an organization of high-ranking military officers, also known as El Cartel de los Soles [Cartel of the Suns].
Ortega Díaz was fired in 2017. Some months earlier, on February 23, 2017, Carvajal Barrios asked the Venezuelan Office of the Attorney General to strip him of his parliamentary immunity as a deputy for the state of Monagas at the National Assembly in order to be subject to an investigation to ascertain the charges made by the United States court.
Oliver upheld in his memo that, certainly, the former Attorney General confirmed “the request for withdrawal of immunity.” Subsequently, a report, of no public knowledge in Venezuela, was made of Ortega Díaz’s willingness to attest to the lack of incriminating evidence concerning Carvajal Barrios’ ties with drug traffic.
Data handled by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is somewhat different from the information kept by the Venezuelan Attorney General as to the past activities of the former director of Venezuela’s Military Intelligence. According to the accusation in the United States, Carvajal Barrios lent a hand in drug traffic related operations of at least a dozen kingpins seeking refuge in Venezuela in 2004-2011, concomitantly with his term in office as the chief of Venezuela’s Military Intelligence.
Based on the documents filed in the New York court, Carvajal helped dispatch a 5.6-ton cocaine shipment on a DC-9 aircraft bearing US registration number N-900SA.
As broken down in the indictment, the aircraft took off in the evening of April 10, 2006 from the presidential apron at Maiquetía international airport. Due to technical issues, the aircraft made a forced landing in Campeche, Mexico, on its flight to Toluca, with the United States as the final destination. Mexican authorities seized the 5.6 tons of cocaine when it arrived in Campeche.
No documents are known about the starting of investigations or charges in Venezuela against senior officers in relation to the seizure. Nevertheless, the accusation in the United States refers to the complicity of an unnamed Venezuelan judge, ITEMP constated after a review of the criminal docket at the Venezuelan Office of the Attorney General.
According to the United States requisition for extradition submitted to Spain, Carvajal Barrios asked a very important Venezuelan judge to provide support to an operation at “Apron 4,” at Maiquetía international airport.
“After the seizure in Mexico, Carvajal Barrios made such a request to the said judge on duty in the event that law enforcement officers would link the cocaine shipment to the General,” the request for extradition reads.
In addition to the file at the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York, Carvajal Barrios faces another motion put forward at the Florida Southern District Court in 2013.
According to Miami’s federal court of law, Colombian drug trafficker Wilber Varela paid Carvajal Barrios for his protection and illicit drug transfer.
Carvajal Barrios’ counsel for the defense has questioned the witnesses quoted by the United States Government in the extradition request.
“None of those persons, confessed criminals, giving testimony have met with Carvajal,” the attorney maintained.
A critical voice
Carvajal Barrios landed in Madrid on March 18, 2019, on board a covert flight from the Dominican Republic, after severing ties with Maduro’s regime and acknowledging Juan Guaidó as the de jure President of Venezuela. Shortly afterward, on April 12, he was arrested in Madrid.
Five months later, the National High Court denied his extradition on the basis that the United States request for extradition was “politically motivated.”
On November 2019, the National High Court changed its mind and ordered the extradition of the ex Chavista General to face trial on charges of drug traffic.
As soon as the news of his extradition was leaked by the press two weeks before the official release, Carvajal Barrios left his place of residence, located in the outskirts of Madrid. His present whereabouts is unknown.
On March 26, 2020, when federal prosecutors charged Maduro with conspiracy to commit narco-terrorism, the United States Department of State also announced a reward of up to US$ 15,000,000 for information leading to the arrest of the Chavista leader, plus an additional sum of US$ 10,000,000 for the capture of Carvajal Barrios.
Also, that same day, Maikel Moreno, the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, was accused of money laundering, whereas Venezuela’s Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino López, was charged with drug traffic.
The president of the Constituent Assembly and second in command in the Venezuelan regime, Diosdado Cabello, together with retired General Clíver Antonio Alcalá Cordones, are also designated in the list over drug traffic charges. United States prosecutors contend that both of them play a fundamental role in the Cartel of the Suns.
In Spain, Carvajal Barrios retained the services of four legal counsels at different periods of time during the seven-month term of the court proceedings. Although his whereabouts is unknown, the counsel for the defense filed a complaint at the National High Court for court intromission.
Specifically, charges were made against Jorge Carrera Domenech, the ex-liaison judge at the Embassy of Spain in Washington, for “trying to exert his influence” with “at least one justice” of the plenary Criminal Chamber of the National High Court for the surrender of the Venezuelan General to the United States, Spanish El Independiente daily newspaper disclosed.
For the time being, Carvajal Barrios has been delaying his surrender to the DEA, and he has made an appeal of last resort, even at the European Court of Human Rights, also known as the Strasbourg Court.
Nevertheless, the European Court of Human Rights may grant stay of execution provided, however, that the action poses for the subject requested for extradition a serious and actual risk of violation of regulatory rights, such as the right to life or the right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading manner.
At any rate, it appears that these are not extenuating circumstances in Carvajal Barrios’ case, insofar as neither torture nor death penalty have been reported in previous events of extradition between the United States and Spain.
Ismael García is among the most critical voices of Carvajal Barrios. Since 2009, the Venezuelan opposition congressman has put the blame on “El Pollo” as an outstanding member of the Cartel of the Suns.
Early in 2017, Carvajal Barrios claimed the right to reply at the National Assembly to advocate for himself against García’s claims, ending up in a personal debate between the deputies. Eventually, García even traveled to the United States only to produce evidence against Carvajal Barrios at the Florida Southern District Court.