By Angus Berwick and Matt Spetalnick
CARACAS / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Venezuelan intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal is discussing his possible surrender with the U.S. authorities, three people who were familiar with the matter on Saturday after the prosecution shared him with the Venezuelan president this week Nicolas Maduro had been accused of drug trafficking.
Carvajal, a former general and ally of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, has been in hiding since a Spanish court approved his extradition to the United States in November. It was unclear when or if he would surrender as people said the talks would continue.
A person familiar with the matter said that the US authorities had contacted Carvajal through a non-governmental intermediary to convince him to report himself and that there was a “50/50 chance” that this would succeed.
Carvajal’s lawyer in Spain, Maria Dolores Arguelles, said she knew nothing about discussions about his surrender.
US officials have been looking for Carvajal for a long time because they believe that if he is willing to cooperate, he could provide a treasure trove of information about the alleged drug activities of Maduro and his staff.
The U.S. Department of State and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA declined to comment. The Department of Justice did not return any requests for comment. The Spanish Department of Justice declined to comment.
On Friday, DEA agents flew to Colombia to remand Venezuelan General Cliver Alcala in custody, said three people familiar with the matter after agreeing to work with prosecutors who charged him with the same case.
The US government indicted Carvajal, Alcala, Maduro and a dozen other current and former Venezuelan officials for “narcotism” on Thursday. This was the latest escalation in a print campaign by U.S. President Donald Trump’s government to overthrow the socialist leader.
Attorney General William Barr accused Maduro and his staff of working with a dissident faction of the demobilized Colombian guerrilla group FARC “to flood the United States with cocaine.”
Carvajal has repeatedly denied allegations of helping to smuggle cocaine into the United States. During a extradition hearing in September, Carvajal said Washington had invented the drug trafficking charge to make him talk.
Since leaving Venezuela, Carvajal has denounced Maduro and supported opposition leader Juan Guaido, who, with the support of the United States, has made a rival claim to the Venezuelan presidency.
Carvajal was arrested by the Spanish police in April 2019 at the request of the U.S. authorities. However, the Spanish High Court initially ruled that he should be released and his extradition request should be refused. The court overturned this decision in November.
(Reporting by Angus Berwick; additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Clara-Laeila Laudette in Madrid; editing by Sarah Kinosian and Daniel Wallis)