Venezuela protests arrest of ex-intelligence head wanted in U.S.

CARACAS/MIAMI Thu Jul 24, 2014 11:07pm 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 on Thursday.

"The government rejects the illegal and arbitrary detention," the foreign ministry said in a statement announcing the arrest of military general 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 his attorney, who declined to discuss the case further.

He is charged with Rodolfo McTurk, ex-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.

DRUG ACCUSATIONS

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 FARC rebels.

In a 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 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 that now has autonomy, but remains part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

"A soldier of the fatherland, in diplomatic service and protected by the Vienna Convention, has been ambushed," Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said in a speech.

"He is kidnapped ... As head of state I put my hand in the fire for Major General Carvajal and I will defend him with all the possibilities and strength of the Venezuelan state ... We will not allow Venezuela's honor to be stained."

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.

McTurk is thought to still be in 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; Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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