Venezuela’s former spy chief has pleaded not guilty in a New York court to US charges of drug trafficking.
Hugo Carvajal, 63, was extradited from Spain on Wednesday after an over-ten year effort by prosecutors to bring him to the US to face the charges.
Mr Carvajal, who was a confidante to late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has denied that he was ever involved in the illicit drug trade.
US prosecutors say he shipped tonnes of cocaine to Mexico to be sent to the US.
Prosecutors allege he used his position in government to ship approximately 5,600kg (12,300lbs) from Venezuela to Mexico to be sent on to the US.
At a federal hearing in Manhattan on Thursday, Mr Carvajal entered a not guilty plea.
He was ordered held in detention pending his next court hearing on 25 July.
Outside of the courthouse, his lawyer Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma told reporters that his client is “categorically innocent”.
“General Carvajal looks forward to fighting these outrageous charges in court before an unbiased American jury,” he said after the hearing, according to Reuters.
Mr Carvajal – whose nickname is El Pollo (the chicken) – was a close ally of the late Venezuelan president and is thought to hold key information about his government and that of Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro.
Prosecutors accuse the former top spy of having used his position as chief of military intelligence to protect shipments of cocaine from Venezuela bound for the US.
He also allegedly provided weapons for the Farc, a Colombian Marxist rebel group that reportedly has camps in neighbouring Venezuela.
He is accused of forming part of a drug-smuggling organisation dubbed the Cartel of the Suns, which prosecutors say is made up of high-ranking members of the Venezuelan military.
As head of military counter-intelligence from 2004 to 2011, he was once one of the most powerful men in Venezuela.
His legal troubles date back to 2011, when a US court first indicted him on drug trafficking charges.
For years, he managed to avoid extradition to the US.
He was first arrested in 2014 Aruba, but released because he held a diplomatic passport.
After turning against Mr Maduro by backing opposition leader Juan Guaidó when the latter declared himself interim president, he fled Venezuela to the Dominican Republic before settling in Spain.
He was arrested by Spanish authorities in 2019 but went into hiding after his extradition to the US was approved.
He was arrested again in 2021 and last week lost his legal battle against extradition to the US.
Source : BBC