Prosecutors successfully appealed the ruling, but Mr. Carvajal went missing, creating a diplomatic headache for Spain and adding another twist to the long cat-and-mouse game to bring Mr. Carvajal before justice.
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 his abrupt fallout with Mr. Maduro, Mr. Chávez’s successor.
Mr. Carvajal urged the military to side instead with Mr. Maduro’s main opponent, Juan Guaidó. Mr. Guaidó was recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate president by the United States and several other Western governments, but that has not prevented Mr. Maduro from holding onto power, even as his country’s economic problems have spiraled in recent years.
The United States Justice Department has said that in April 2006, Mr. Carvajal coordinated the transportation of 5.6 metric tons, or about 6.2 U.S. tons, of cocaine to Mexico from Venezuela, according to charges filed in federal court in New York. If convicted, he would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life.
In a February 2019 interview with The New York Times, Mr. Carvajal denied he was involved in drug trafficking. After his detention in Spain and during his extradition hearing, he and his lawyers claimed that the drug charges had been fabricated, and that the case brought by the United States was politically motivated.