Spanish court allows extradition of late Venezuela leader Chavez's aide to US

FILE PHOTO: A mural depicting Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez is seen at the Juan Vicente Gomez airport in San Antonio, Venezuela February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's High Court approved on Friday the extradition of a Venezuelan woman who was part of the late President Hugo Chavez's inner circle to the United States on charges of money laundering and belonging to a criminal group.

Claudia Diaz, a former Navy sergeant, was Chavez's nurse when he was being treated for cancer, while her husband served as one of his aides de camp, according to Venezuelan media. She also served as Venezuela's national treasurer from 2011 to 2013, the court said in a statement.

Chavez died of cancer in 2013.

The court said in its statement that all requirements had been met to proceed with Diaz's extradition, and rejected her argument that as a Spanish citizen facing an investigation in Spain she should not be extradited.

The judges concluded that the investigation in Spain, focusing on the purchase of a house in Madrid for 1.8 million euros with money from Switzerland, was a different case from the U.S. accusations that include alleged money laundering in the purchase of a yacht and a fashion company.

Friday's ruling comes at a time when former Venezuelan spy chief Hugo Carvajal, who U.S. officials believe could provide a treasure trove of information on the alleged drug activities of President Nicolas Maduro and his associates, is in a Spanish prison pending extradition to the United States.

Diaz could not be reached on Friday for comment.

The U.S. Treasury Department has said Diaz and television mogul Raul Gorrin, among others, were part of a Venezuelan currency exchange network scheme that siphoned off billions of dollars to corrupt insiders of the Venezuelan government.

The individuals allegedly concealed their profits in U.S. and European bank accounts and investments.

From 2011 until 2013, Diaz also served as an executive of an obscure state-run investment fund known as Fonden, which received more than $100 billion in state revenues but produced little, if any, documentation as to how the funds were spent.

It is not clear whether Fonden funds were implicated in the alleged money laundering.

Previously the Maduro administration has unsuccessfully sought Diaz's extradition from Spain on allegations of money laundering and illicit enrichment. She said those accusations against her were politically motivated.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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