A Spanish court ordered the extradition of Hugo Carvajal, who broke with Nicolás Maduro’s government. Now the police are searching for him.
MADRID — The Spanish police said on Wednesday that they were searching for Hugo Carvajal, the former intelligence chief of Venezuela, after Spain’s national court reversed an earlier decision and ordered the extradition of Mr. Carvajal to the United States to stand trial on drug-trafficking charges.
The search for Mr. Carvajal is the latest twist in an international game of cat and mouse since the Spanish police first detained him last April. He was released from a Spanish jail in September after the American extradition request was first rejected. The court ruled that the claims made against him were too “abstract” to establish his individual involvement in drug trafficking.
Last September, the Spanish court also accepted the defense’s argument that the American request was politically motivated, saying that the United States wanted to extradite Mr. Carvajal because the move would be “within the American political strategy toward Venezuela.”
Spanish prosecutors appealed, however, and the ruling was reversed last week, reactivating the arrest warrant for Mr. Carvajal. A spokesman for the national court said that details of the ruling were not yet public, so it remains unclear why the decision was changed.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Spanish national police said that officers were trying to find Mr. Carvajal. Maria Dolores de Argüelles, a Spanish lawyer representing Mr. Carvajal, said that she had no idea where her client was and had also been unable to reach his wife by phone.
But Mr. Carvajal could not be considered a fugitive, Ms. de Argüelles said, since she had yet to receive a document from the court confirming that it had agreed to extradite him.
“That some people should know about a court decision before the court even informs the parties is simply incredible,” she said by phone.
Mr. Carvajal, known by the nickname El Pollo, or “The Chicken,” served for several years as the military intelligence chief under Hugo Chávez, the former leader of Venezuela. He was also a lawmaker in the governing Socialist party before an abrupt fallout with the current leader, Nicolás Maduro.
In February, Mr. Carvajal urged the military to break with the president and instead side with Mr. Maduro’s main opponent, Juan Guaidó.
Amid the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Mr. Maduro has managed to hold on to power and has resisted pressure from Mr. Guaidó and other opponents, including the United States, to step down. Mr. Guaidó has been recognized as the legitimate president by the United States and several other Western governments.
The United States Justice Department said that in April 2006, Mr. Carvajal coordinated the transportation of about 6.2 tons of cocaine to Mexico from Venezuela, according to charges filed in federal court in New York.
He would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life if convicted.
After Mr. Carvajal was detained in Spain last April, he claimed during his extradition hearing in Madrid that the drug charges against him had been fabricated.
Spain has become one of the main safe havens for members of the Venezuelan opposition and defecting members of the Socialist party who have fled their country as the political situation and economic problems there have spiraled out of control.