CARACAS / BOGOTA (Reuters) – U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents were flying back from Colombia on Friday with retired Venezuelan general Cliver Alcala in their custody, three people familiar with the matter said, after he agreed to work with prosecutors who charged him, President Nicolas Maduro and other top officials with drug trafficking .
Alcala surrendered and waived his extradition and was being flown to White Plains, New York from the port city of Barranquilla, where he has been living, the three people told Reuters.
The White House and a DEA spokeswoman referred questions to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to comment. The State Department did not reply to a request for comment. Colombia’s National Police declined to comment.
The U.S. government on Thursday indicted Maduro, Alcala and 21 other current and former Venezuelan officials on charges of “narco-terrorism”, the latest escalation of a pressure campaign by US President Donald Trump administration to oust the socialist leader.
Attorney General William Barr accused Maduro and his associates of colluding with a dissident faction of the demobilized Colombian guerrilla group, the FARC, “to flood the United States with cocaine.”
Maduro, in a state television address, dismissed the charges as false and racist, and called Trump a “miserable person.”
The U.S. State Department had offered a reward of up to $ 15 million for information leading to Alcala’s arrest, while there is a reward of up to $ 15 million for information aiding Maduro’s detention.
The indictment alleged that Alcala and other top officials received bribes from the FARC in exchange for safe passage for cocaine shipments sent through Venezuela.
Around 2013, at a meeting with senior socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello and then head of the military intelligence unit, Hugo Carvajal, it was decided Alcala would coordinate drug-trafficking with the FARC, according to the indictment.
Cabello and Carvajal were both charged too. They have previously denied accusations of drug trafficking.
Alcala retired from the armed forces as Maduro took over the presidency in 2013 following his predecessor Hugo Chavez’s death from cancer.
Alcala later fell out with the ruling Socialist Party and fled to Colombia, from where he has publicly spoken out against Maduro and backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has staked a rival claim to the presidency with U.S. support.
On Thursday, in an interview with Colombia’s W Radio station, Alcala said: “I’m not fleeing, I’m at my house and the authorities can come and define exactly what they want with me . ”
That evening, Alcala told the DEA he would give himself up, one person said.
Other Venezuelan officials whose indictments were announced on Thursday include Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and the chief justice of the country’s supreme court, Maikel Moreno, who was charged with money laundering.
One person familiar with Friday’s DEA operation said efforts had been under way to convince others among those indicted to surrender, but it was too early to say whether that would succeed, as unlike Alcala they remained in Venezuela .
Reporting by Angus Berwick, Luis Jaime Acosta, and Sarah Kinosian; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Sarah Lynch in Washington, and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Vivian Sequera and Daniel Wallis