Venezuelan ex-intelligence head faces drug chrges in U.S

CARACAS/MIAMI Thu Jul 24, 2014 7:54pm EDT

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CARACAS/MIAMI (Reuters) - Venezuela's former military intelligence chief, accused of involvement in drug trafficking by the United States, was arrested on a Caribbean island while on diplomatic business, the South American country said in a sternly worded statement on Thursday.

"The government rejects the illegal and arbitrary detention of the Venezuelan diplomatic official," said the foreign ministry statement announcing the arrest of Hugo Carvajal on the nearby island of Aruba.

Carvajal's arrest came as another former Venezuela official was hauled into federal court in Miami accused of taking bribes from South American drug cartels in exchange for help moving large shipments of cocaine to the United States.

Benny Palmeri-Bacchi, 46, an attorney and former Venezuelan judge, pleaded not guilty to charges of distributing cocaine to the United States, conspiracy to obstruct justice, money laundering, and extortion in a Miami federal court on Thursday.

Palmeri-Bacchi was arrested on Friday after he flew into Miami on a family vacation to Disney World, according to the Miami Herald, citing his attorney.

He is charged with Rodolfo McTurk, the former director of Interpol in Venezuela. The pair allegedly helped Jamie Alberto Marin Zamora, a drug kingpin with Colombia's North Valley Cartel, ship “thousands of kilograms of cocaine” from Venezuela to the United States, according to a federal grand jury indictment in the Southern District of Florida unsealed in December 2013.

Venezuela blamed Dutch authorities for the arrest of Carvajal, who ran military intelligence between 2004 and 2009 during the government of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez. Local media said Carvajal was arrested on Wednesday night and was due to be flown to the United States, where he is wanted on suspicion of drug crimes and helping Colombia's Marxist FARC guerrillas.

In an May 2013 indictment unsealed Thursday, Carvajal is accused of assisting Colombia's North Valley Cartel, including the late Wilber Varela, alias "Jabon", to ship cocaine from Venezuela between 2004 and 2008, while bribing to high-ranking military and law enforcement officials. According to local media, Venezuela had been trying to accredit Carvajal as consul to its diplomatic mission on Aruba, a former Dutch colony which now has autonomy but remains part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

"Venezuela has activated all diplomatic mechanisms to correct this grave violation of international law," the statement said, calling on the Netherlands to free Carvajal or face a "deterioration" in relations.

Neither U.S. nor Dutch diplomats in Caracas could be immediately contacted for further information or comment on the case. Thursday was a national holiday in Venezuela. An attorney for Palmeri-Bacchi couldn’t be reached on Thursday.

McTurk is thought to still be Venezuela and along with Palmeri-Bacchi was declared a fugitive in late 2013.

Prosecutors are seeking to seize $2.5 million from Wells Fargo and Espirito Santo Bank accounts owned by the men.

(Writing by David Adams and Andrew Cawthorne. Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson.; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Andrew Hay)

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