U.S. court awards $73 million in death to Venezuelan rival

MIAMI (AP) – A federal judge in Miami has awarded $73 million in damages to the family of a prominent opponent of Venezuela’s socialist government who died in custody by what he said was ‘Murder for hire’ of President Nicolas Maduro led by criminal enterprise.

Fernando Albán, who was arrested at Caracas International Airport from New York in 2018, was part of a delegation that condemned Maduro’s government during the United Nations General Assembly.Three days later, he was initially described by authorities as Suicide by jumping from the 10th floor Building belonging to Venezuelan intelligence services.

Alban’s death sparked international outrage and U.S. condemnation last year when his widow and two children sued Maduro and several of his top government officials for the kidnapping, torture and murder of a former Caracas lawmaker .

The family accused the men of belonging to the “Sun Cartel,” an alleged drug smuggling ring involving high-ranking Venezuelan officials and FARC guerrillas – a designated terrorist group – that allegedly enter the United States from Venezuela every year.

Judge Darrin P. Gayles granted the cartel a default judgment in a previously unreported ruling last week that the cartel did not respond to the lawsuit. In it, the court found that what it called a “Maduro criminal syndicate” was responsible for federal racketeering charges because its entire purpose was to “exercise an illegitimate dictatorship over Venezuela” through drug trafficking, acts of terrorism and human rights abuses.

The court accepted an early finding by a magistrate judge that agents of Maduro’s government followed Alban while he was still in New York, taking surveillance photos and sending information back to Venezuela, which contributed to his abduction and death on his return home. murder.

“Mr. Alban’s murder was a murder for hire because the members of the Maduro crime syndicate that committed the murder received payment (in the form of wages) from the Maduro regime,” the court said.

The court ruled that the cartel must pay $73 million to Alban’s estate for the pain and suffering caused by his death.

However, it is unclear how the survivors will receive such a generous reward. Although Maduro and the other defendants named in the original indictment — including his defense minister and the president of Venezuela’s Supreme Court — have been charged in the United States with drug terrorism and corruption, they have received little scrutiny from Alban’s former Pressure from fellow opposition confederates to relinquish power.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has expressed willingness to ease sanctions on the oil-rich OPEC nation in exchange for progress in talks with the opposition aimed at creating a more democratic environment for the 2024 presidential election.

In addition, the only alleged cartel leader in U.S. custody, retired Army Gen. Clever Alcala, was represented by a court-appointed legal team after claiming he was unable to pay his defense.

Lawyers for Alban’s family declined to comment.

Alban’s case has also been condemned by the International Criminal Court, which is investigating allegations of torture and killings by Maduro security forces. In late 2021, Justice Minister Tarek William Saab announced that two members of the feared SEBIN intelligence agency had been sentenced to nearly six years in prison for negligence in custody related to Alban’s death.

Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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