Venezuela's former intelligence chief has told a court in Madrid that the country’s late president Hugo Chávez sent some US$21 million to Argentina to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s 2007 presidential campaign – an explosive claim that could deepen the vice-president’s legal woes.
General Hugo Armando ‘El Pollo’ Carvajal, who served as head of intelligence and counterintelligence under the Bolivarian leader, was arrested in September after nearly two years on the run. On Friday, Spain’s top criminal court suspended his imminent extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on drug-trafficking charges.
Reports in Spain say the prisoner has made explosive allegations while in detention. According to media outlet OK Diario – which said it obtained “exclusive access” to court information – Carvajal told investigators that Chávez had sent 20 suitcases each containing US$1 million to Argentina even before close to US$800,000 was discovered in the suitcase of Venezuelan entrepreneur Guido Antonini Wilson in the 2008 ‘escándalo de la valija’ scandal.
According to the Spanish outlet, the cash arrived "without problems since Argentine airport officials had already been paid off to let them pass without any inconveniences."
The claims have been noticed by the local judicial officials. On Friday, federal prosecutor Carlos Stornelli asked Judge Julián Ercolini to intervene and gain access to Carvajal’s testimony to the Spanish authorities, saying it could be relevant to the so-called ‘Cuadernos’ corruption notebooks case probing alleged public works graft during the Fernández de Kirchner presidency.
Financing the left
The same newspaper also reported that ‘El Pollo’ Carvajal had declared via judicial writ that both the Chávez and Nicolás Maduro presidencies had illegally financed "leftist movements" worldwide, citing late Argentine president Néstor Kirchner as a case in point, as well as other governments across the region, including in Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.
He also alleges that Maduro, who replaced Chávez in office, helped finance the creation of Spain’s left-wing party Podemos.
“While I was director of military intelligence and counterintelligence in Venezuela, I received a large number of reports indicating that this international financing was occurring. Specific examples are: Néstor Kirchner in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, [Luiz Inácio] Lula Da Silva in Brazil, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, Ollanta Humala in Peru, Zelaya in Honduras, Gustavo Petro in Colombia, Five-Star Movement in Italy and Podemos in Spain," said Carvajal, according to the alleged testimony.
In September, 2008, Antonini Wilson himself told a Miami court that the undeclared money he was bringing into Argentina via Jorge Newbery metropolitan airport on August 4, 2007, was destined to financing Fernández de Kirchner’s electoral campaign and came from Venezuela’s PDVSA state oil company.
Testifying to Spanish judge Manuel García-Castellón, Carvajal recalled the incident involving Antonini Wilson but also confessed, according to the newspaper: “What was not known was that that was his 21st flight with 20 previous deliveries of US$1 million each.”
In 2007, Antonini Wilson arrived here from Caracas accompanied by Argentine senior highway official junto Claudio Uberti, among others, with a suitcase containing almost US$800,000 aboard an aircraft contracted by Enarsa (Energía Argentina SA). Then-Customs agent María Luján Telpuk who ordered the Venezuelan businessman to open up his money-laden suitcase, with the resulting scandal dominating the nation’s frontpages and TV screens.
Fernández de Kirchner, now vice-president to Alberto Fernández, won the 2007 presidential elections with 45 percent of the vote, followed by Elisa Carrió with 23 percent.
On Wednesday, the National Audience, the Spanish court in charge of extraditions, ruled that Carvajal should be sent to the United States on charges of drug-trafficking, money-laundering and conspiring with Colombia’s FARC guerrillas to introduce drugs into US territory.
But in response to an appeal from Carvajal's defence team, the court on Friday ordered the suspension of his extradition until an error in a previous court order regarding the case is corrected. The court did not specify how long it could take to correct this error and for the extradition to take place.
Carvajal, 61, has long been sought by US Treasury officials. Prosecutors in New York allege he used his high office to coordinate the smuggling of approximately 5,600 kilogrammes (12,345 pounds) of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico in 2006 that was destined for the US. He has repeatedly denied having any links to drug-traffickers or the FARC.
Carvajal was stripped of his rank by Maduro's administration after coming out in support of opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's acting president in February 2019.
The ex-intel chief then left Venezuela for good and was first arrested in Spain in April 2019 but a court later that year ordered his release, arguing the US extradition request was "politically motivated."
The court reversed that decision in November after accepting an appeal from the public prosecutor's office, but Carvajal then went on the run.
When he was arrested again in Madrid last month, police said he had remained in Spain the whole time, changing residences frequently and getting plastic surgery to avoid being caught.