Sunday, October 25, 2020

Retired Venezuelan general arrested on drug trafficking charges

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U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents flew to Colombia on Friday to take into custody Cliver Alcala, a retired Venezuelan general indicted for drug trafficking along with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Alcala surrendered to the DEA and waived his extradition, after agreeing to collaborate with prosecutors, the three people said. The DEA agents are flying back to the United States with Alcala this evening from the Colombian port city of Barranquilla, where Alcala now lives, they said.

Two Colombian law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed there was a DEA flight scheduled to leave Colombia tonight, though they declined to give more details.

A DEA spokeswoman referred questions to the U.S. Justice Department, where a spokeswoman had no immediate comment. The State Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Colombia’s National Police declined to comment.

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The U.S. government on Thursday indicted Maduro, Alcala and more than a dozen other top Venezuelan officials on charges of “narco-terrorism”, the latest escalation of the Trump administration’s pressure campaign aimed at ousting the socialist leader.

Attorney General William Barr accused Maduro and his associates of colluding with a dissident faction of the demobilized Colombian guerrilla group, the FARC, “to flood the United States with cocaine.”

The U.S. State Department had offered a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to Alcala’s arrest. There is a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to Maduro’s detention.

Alcala told the DEA on Thursday evening that he would give himself up, one DEA source said.

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The indictment alleged that Alcala and other top officials received bribes from the FARC in exchange for safe passage for cocaine shipments sent through Venezuela.

Around 2008, at a meeting with senior socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello and then head of the military intelligence unit, Hugo Carvajal, it was decided Alcala would coordinate drug-trafficking with the FARC, according to the indictment. Cabello and Carvajal were both charged too.

Alcala retired from the armed forces as Maduro took over the presidency in 2013, after Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez died of cancer.

Alcala later fell out with the ruling Socialist Party and fled to Colombia, from where he has publicly spoken out against Maduro.

On Thursday, in an interview with Colombia’s W Radio station, Alcala said: “I’m not fleeing, I’m at my house and the authorities can come and define exactly what they want with me.”

Other Venezuelan officials whose indictments were announced on Thursday include Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and the chief justice of the country’s supreme court, Maikel Moreno, who was charged with money laundering.

One person familiar with Friday’s DEA operation said efforts had been under way to convince others among those indicted to surrender, but it was too early to say whether that would succeed, as unlike Alcala they remained in Venezuela.

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