NEW YORK -- A federal judge in New York allowed to move forward a high profile case against a former Venezuelan army general accused of working alongside President Nicolás Maduro and top military officials to “flood” the U.S. with cocaine.
In rejecting Cliver Alcalá's motion to dismiss 2-year-old criminal charges , Judge Alvin Hellerstein said the U.S. is free to indict whoever they deem has violated U.S. laws even when their alleged conduct was carried out in fulfillment of their official duties.
“Sovereign immunity does not protect a rogue state or rogue officials,” said Hellerstein in handing down his ruling Tuesday in a Manhattan federal court as Alcalá looked on in a beige prison uniform. “We’re not dealing with ordinary criminal conduct. We're dealing with criminal conduct at the highest levels of government.”
The ruling means Alcalá must face trial for his alleged crimes, which include providing security for the free movement inside Venezuela of leftist rebels from neighboring Colombia as well as deactivating military radars and returning seized drug shipments to the insurgents.
The case has attracted additional attention because Alcalá has been an outspoken critic of Maduro ever since he took office in 2013 following the death of Hugo Chávez and has boasted of taking up arms against the socialist leader with the full knowledge of top U.S. officials.
Attorneys for Alcalá said while they were disappointed with the result they respect the Court's decision and would wait for the written order before deciding whether to appeal.
“General Alcalá maintains his innocence and is anxious for a trial date," his defense team said in a statement.
At the time of his arrest, he had been living for several years in Colombia and was helping train at secret camps a ragtag army of Venezuelan military deserters intent on ousting Maduro. As part of that effort, he was aided by Jordan Goudreau, an idealistic if battle-scarred former U.S. Green Beret.
But despite such open hostility toward Maduro, he and his sworn enemy were charged together in a second superseding indictment with being part of a cabal of senior Venezuelan officials and military officers that worked with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — a designated terrorist group under U.S. law — to allegedly send 250 metric tons of cocaine a year to the U.S.
Alcalá's attorneys in seeking dismissal had argued that despite having pored over thousands of documents, video and audio recordings turned over by prosecutors, they could find no evidence demonstrating Alcalá was involved in the alleged narcotics conspiracy.
They argued that the only act tying Alcalá to the conspiracy in the 28-page indictment is a 2008 meeting he allegedly attended with Chávez’s former spy boss Hugo Carvajal and socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello in which it was agreed Alcalá would take on unspecified “additional duties” to coordinate drug trafficking.
In court, Assistant U.S. attorney Kyle Wirshba disputed that characterization and said Alcalá's alleged role in a conspiracy to smuggle drugs was also a violation of Venezuelan law.
The U.S. offered a $10 million reward for Alcalá's arrest when former Attorney General William Barr at a press conference announced he, Maduro and several other senior Venezuelan officials had been indicted.
Goodman reported from Miami.