No Treaty, No Problem for the DEA

Update 7/27: The Netherlands has authorized Aruba to release Hugo Carvajal, saying he does have diplomatic immunity. Looks like the DEA has lost this round. Definitely the right decision in my view.


Venezuela does not allow the extradition of its citizens to the U.S. That doesn't stop the DEA. The latest conquests in its global war on drugs: Benny Palmeri-Bacchia, a Venezuelan attorney who served as a judge and prosecutor, and Hugo Carvajal Barrios, aka "Pollo" (chicken), the former head of Venezuela's Military Intelligence. Palmeri-Bacchi was arrested en route to Disneyland with his family for a vacation, and Carvajal was arrested in Aruba (as the result of a year long DEA plan to arrest him outside of Venezuela, more on this below.) [More...]

Caravjal was arrested when he arrived in Aruba this week to assume duties in his new job as a consular official for Venezuela. He should have had diplomatic immunity, but the Netherlands, which controls Aruba, claimed it never approved his appointment, and an Aruban judge Friday upheld his detention for extradition to the U.S. on the arrest warrant in Caravjal's Miami case. The President of Venezuela is outraged, and says Caravjal was kidnapped.

They are indicted in separate cases in Miami. Essentially, Caravjal isaccused of accepting bribes from drug traffickers to fly cocaine shipments from Venezuela to Mexico and the Caribbean for distribution in the United States. They served in the Government of Hugo Chavez.

Benny Palmeri is indicted with former Venezuelan Interpol director, Rodolfo McTurk, who apparently remains at large, probably in Venezuela. The indictment largely stems from information provided by former Norte de Valle cartel leader Jaime Marin Zamora, who cooperated with the U.S. and is serving a 16 year sentence. In one count they are accused of obstructing Marin Zamora's extradition to the U.S. Palmeri is also charged with drug crimes, money laundering, and threatening the owner and operator of a realty company and a real estate school, who is referred to as "J.C.S."

The basics as to Carvajal's charges, according to the Miami Herald:

Carvajal is accused of assisting Colombian kingpins such as the late Wilber Varela by allowing them to export their cocaine loads from Venezuela, protecting them from being captured, and providing them with information about Venezuelan military and police investigations. In return, Varela paid bribes to the former military intelligence director and other high-ranking military and law enforcement officials.

Carvajal and other unnamed Venezuelan officials are accused of investing in the cartels’ shipments to the United States, the indictment said. In particular, it alleges that Carvajal sold 100 kilos of cocaine to a member of Varela’s faction in the so-called North Valley cartel in Colombia.

Carvajal has been on the kingpin list for several years, and allegedly was part of the Cartel de los Soles (Cartel of the Suns), which wasn't really a cartel, just a group of Venezuelan military officials. Other major drug traffickers have publicly accused the group in the past, including Walid Makled, who was the subject of an extradition fight in Colombia. Waklid was wanted by both Venezuela and the U.S. and Colombia gave him to Venezuela, where he's been imprisoned (and effectively silenced.)

Some 5.5 tons of cocaine seized from a DC-9 jet plane in Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico, was traced back to Caracas and is believed to have been part of an operation organized by Makled. The cocaine shipment was reportedly purchased from the FARC and was meant for the Sinaloa Cartel.

At the height of Makled’s business, he was reportedly smuggling up to 10 tons of cocaine a month. Makled has claimed that his trafficking network was made possible by complicity at the very highest levels of Venezuela’s military and government [see here].

Back to the arrests. The U.S. has said in court pleadings in Carvajal's case that the DEA has had an active plan to arrest him outside of Venezuela for the past year. From the Government's response to a court order requesting clarification as to whether he should be classified as a fugitive (Case No.13-cr-20345-KMM Document 8, filed 6/8/14, now unsealed):

ln the past year, the Special Operations Division of DEA have told us that they had an active plan to affect Carvajal's arrest outside of Venezuela. At this time those plans have not come to fruition, in part, because another United States Attorney's Office had notified this Office that they had an active investigation into other criminal activities by Carvajal. Our office has just learned that that investigation is no longer active. The United States is currently monitoring the international travel plans of Carvajal and the United States Attomey's Office for the Southern District of Florida is actively conferring with DEA'S Special Operations Division and another United States Attorney's Office, who has been investigating Carvajal, to develop a plan to arrest Carvajal in a country outside of Venezuela so that he can be successfully extradited to the United States.

Question: Did the DEA set up his flight from Venezuela to Aruba? One article says (google translated version):

An important fact that has come to light following the arrest of retired general is retired military who arrived in Aruba on a model airplane Cessna S550, acronyms N9GY, belonging to the company Global Air Service, according to records of the U.S. civil aviation authorities.

This company, based in Texas, belongs to Jose Roberto Rincon, who also owns Tradequip Services & Marine, dedicated to oil activities. Unofficially it was learned that Rincon, who is the figurehead of the former head of the DGIM, cooperated with federal agents to capture Carvajal.

As to how the DEA arrested Benny Palmeri-Bacchi -- According to his lawyer, Edward Abramson:

The lawyer accused the U.S. government of laying a trap for his client. He said Mr. Palmeri-Bacchi had initially been denied a visa by the U.S. embassy in Caracas. Days later, he said, the embassy called Mr. Palmeri-Bacchi back and said it had made a mistake and could issue him a visa. "It was a setup," Mr. Abramson said.

No treaty, no problem. Especially, it seems, for those allegedly associated with Hugo Chavez or FARC.

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