Venezuela ex-general fights U.S. extradition, cooperation in doubt

MADRID (Reuters) - Venezuela’s ex-military intelligence chief told a Spanish court that Washington was fabricating drug-trafficking charges in its extradition request, throwing into doubt future cooperation with the U.S. push against Venezuela’s socialist rulers.

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Washington believes Hugo Carvajal, a former general and ally of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, has incriminating information he is willing to share about Chavez’ successor President Nicolas Maduro, whom he turned against.

But Carvajal, who was arrested by Spanish police in April on a U.S. request, said that given the drug allegations in the extradition request, he no longer trusted either side.

“I feel I am threatened in both countries (United States and Venezuela),” he told the High Court at his extradition hearing. “I don’t trust the U.S. judiciary after what they did to me.”

The court is expected to rule in coming days.

The prosecution said Spain must meet the extradition request because of the serious drug charges and Carvajal’s important role under Chavez. But his lawyer, Maria Dolores de Arguelles, said the request was an abusive “legal fraud”.

“All they want is information and not to catch a criminal,” she told the court, explaining that those who could testify to his innocence were either dead, imprisoned in Venezuela or otherwise barred from leaving.

Carvajal again denied accusations he helped smuggle cocaine from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels to the United States. “Their accusations are mere speculations that don’t have any kind of handle,” he told the court.

The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has previously said Carvajal’s assistance to the FARC included protecting shipments from seizure and providing them with weapons and Venezuelan government identification papers.

As well as denouncing Maduro, Carvajal has given his support to opposition leader Juan Guaido, who in January invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency.

Guaido was later recognized by the United States and dozens of other states, but Maduro remains in office with support of China, Russia and his military. He calls Guaido a U.S. puppet.

Reporting by Paola Luelmo; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne