U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents on Friday remanded in custody retired Venezuelan general Cliver Alcala, 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 to DEA agents in Colombia and waived his right to challenge extradition, the three people told Reuters. He was flown to White Plains, New York from the port city of Barranquilla, where he had been living.
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.
Nicolas Maduro accused
The U.S. government on Thursday indicted Maduro, Alcala and 13 other current and former Venezuelan officials on charges of "narco-terrorism", the latest escalation of a pressure campaign by U.S. 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 $10 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 2008, 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 evening, after the indictment's announcement, Alcala told the DEA over the phone that he would give himself up, one person said.
US accused Venezuelan officials
In a video posted on his Instagram account on Friday afternoon, before leaving with the DEA, Alcala said, "Family, I say goodbye for a while. I face the responsibilities of my actions with the truth."
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 of the people familiar with Friday's DEA operation said efforts had been underway to convince other individuals who have been indicted to surrender, but it was too early to say whether that would succeed, as unlike Alcala they remained in Venezuela.