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Spanish court calls U.S. extradition request for Venezuela ex-spymaster politically motivated

CARACAS (Reuters) - Spain’s High Court rejected a U.S. request to extradite Venezuela’s former spy chief on drug trafficking charges this week after determining the U.S. action was politically motivated, according to a court document released on Tuesday.

Hugo Carvajal, who headed Venezuela’s military intelligence unit for almost a decade, was arrested in Madrid in April following a U.S. federal indictment alleging that he and other government officials helped Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels smuggle cocaine into the United States. Carvajal has denied the charges.

On Monday, the court ruled against Carvajal’s extradition and ordered his release from jail.[nL5N267258]

It published a resolution explaining the decision on Tuesday which said Washington’s request was “based on political motivations” given Carvajal’s former role as Director of Military Intelligence Services under late President Hugo Chavez and current President Nicolas Maduro.

The proof presented against Carvajal did not identify “concrete and precise” activities to justify extradition, the court said.

Carvajal, known as “El Pollo,” was a close ally of Chavez but publicly broke ranks with Maduro before fleeing to Spain earlier this year. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned him in 2008, based on accusations he helped the FARC rebels smuggle cocaine.

Carvajal has said any contact with the FARC was under orders from the president of Venezuela and with the approval of Colombian authorities as part of the process to reach a peace deal signed in 2016.

The Spanish court said Carvajal had been following orders and that any crimes while he was head of military intelligence should be classified as “military crimes.” Under Spanish law, those accused of military crimes may not be extradited, it said.

The court’s decision had nothing to do with corruption cases Spain is pursuing against Venezuelan officials, one of the lawyers who represented Carvajal during proceedings told Reuters.

“The authorities made an offer, but seeing that he had no valuable information, they did not go down that road,” said the lawyer, Ismael Oliver Romer. “Everything he knows is already out there.”

Carvajal had argued the U.S. extradition request was “spurious” and intended “to obtain information about Nicolas Maduro.”

The Spanish government has the final say on extraditions, but it tends to follow the court’s rulings.

Reporting by Corina Pons, Sarah Kinosian and Angus Berwick. Writing by Sarah Kinosian. Editing by Angus Berkwick and Sonya Hepinstall