Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios was set to be handed over to US authorities on charges including narco-terrorism.
The Spanish National Court on Friday backtracked on its decision to extradite Venezuela’s former head of military intelligence Hugo Carvajal Barrios to the US.
The judges said a formal error that was brought to the court’s attention by Carvajal’s defense team has led to the extradition being suspended, for now.
On Wednesday, the same court had approved handing him over to US authorities. This was expected to take place as soon as Saturday.
Carvajal, nicknamed El Pollo (The Chicken), served as the intelligence chief under former President Hugo Chavez and President Nicolas Maduro for several years. He was also a politician, diplomat, and a major general in the Venezuelan army.
Carvajal was arrested in Madrid last month. The US accuses him of participating in large-scale drug trafficking activities as a Venezuelan government official, including a 5.6-ton cocaine shipment.
In the US, he faces charges such as participating in a narco-terrorism conspiracy, which could give him life behind bars.
In 2019, he dramatically broke with Maduro’s government, accusing it of corruption, authoritarianism, and drug trafficking. He also came out in support of opposition leader Juan Guido.
Maduro then expelled Carvajal from the armed forces and accused him of treason.
He applied for political asylum in Spain, but the country’s Interior Ministry recently denied that request.
Carvajal was already arrested in 2019 in Spain, but the court eventually rejected the US’s extradition request. The ruling was successfully appealed, but Carvajal went missing until police found him this September.
Ever since his arrest, he had reportedly been trying to stop his extradition by trading “sensitive information” with Spanish officials and offering to become a witness.
In the last-ditch effort, he declared in front of a Spanish judge that the Venezuelan regime has financed left-wing political movements around the world over the last 15 years. These include Lula de Silva in Brazil, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Podemos in Spain, and Italy’s Five Star Movement.
Now that his extradition has been paused, he may be able to testify in a trial that a Spanish court reopened about Podemos’ irregular financing this week.