US indicts Nicolás Maduro and other top Venezuelan leaders for drug trafficking
By Editor - Thu Mar 26, 12:10 pm
* $15m reward for information leading to president’s capture * William Barr alleges plot involving Farc guerrilla factionThe US has charged the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, and 14 members of his inner circle with drug trafficking, “narco-terrorism”, corruption and money laundering, and offered a $15m reward for information leading to Maduro’s capture and prosecution.Unveiling the indictment the attorney general, William Barr, said the Venezuelan leadership collaborated with a dissident faction of the former Colombian guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, operating on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, which Barr described as an “extremely violent terrorist organization”.“They’ve obtained the support of the Maduro regime, who is allowing them to use Venezuela as a safe haven from which they can continue to conduct their cocaine trafficking and their armed insurgency,” Barr said.Alongside Maduro, Venezuela’s vice-president for the economy, Venezuela’s defence minister, and the supreme court’s chief justice are among the list of 15 current and former officials who have been indicted.The state department announced a reward of $15m for “information related to” Maduro, and $10m each for information on Diosdado Cabello, the head of the national constituent assembly, and three others: Hugo Carvajal, former head of Venezuela’s military intelligence, Clíver Alcalá, a retired army major general and Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah, the country’s industry minister.In separate indictments, prosecutors in Miami charged the head of the Venezuelan supreme court, Maikel Moreno, with money laundering. And charges dating back to May 2019 were unsealed in Washington against the defence minister, Gen Vladimir Padrino, accused of permitting planes carrying drugs to transit Venezuelan airspace.Barr said that Venezuelan leaders and the Farc faction organised an “air bridge” from a Venezuelan airbase transporting cocaine to Central America and a sea route to the Caribbean.“We estimate that somewhere between 200 and 250 metric tons of cocaine are shipped out of Venezuela by these routes,” Barr said. “Those 250 metric tons equate to 30m lethal doses.Geoffrey Berman, US attorney for the southern district of New York said the accused called the operation the “cartel of the suns”.“The name they chose reflects the cartel’s identity and operations,” Berman said. “It is a direct reference to the sun-shaped stars that Venezuelan military officers wear on their uniforms.”Barr said the US would “explore all options” to put the accused Venezuelan leaders in custody. Almost all of them are still in Venezuela. Carvajal, the former intelligence chief, had been living in Spain but disappeared in November after a Spanish court approved a US request for extradition.Another of the accused, Clíver Alcalá, broke from the Maduro camp in 2016 and is living in Colombia.The charges portray Venezuelan drug smuggling as a major national security issue. The justice department statement on the indictments said: “Maduro and the other defendants expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and wellbeing of our nation. Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon.”But US data for 2018, which show 210 tons of cocaine passing through Venezuela, show that six times as much passed through Guatemala in the same period.“The evidence they point to against Maduro is thin, which suggests this is more about politics than about drugs,” said Geoff Ramsey, director of the Venezuela programme at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.“Venezuela’s nowhere close to a primary transit country for US-bound cocaine.
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