United States blacklists Venezuela's vice president as drug trafficker

Tomas Mccoy
February 14, 2017

The United States has said Venezuela's vice president is a major drug trafficker, adding the veteran politician to its narcotics "kingpin" sanctions list.

The announcement, made on the Treasury Department's website late in the day, is bound to ratchet up tensions between the US and its harshest critic in Latin America. Treasury officials said that in his previous positions as governor of Aragua state and the country's minister of interior, he was involved in large drug shipments bound from Venezuela to Mexico and the United States.

The US Department of the Treasury also sanctioned businessman Samark Jose Lopez Bello for providing “material assistance, financial support, or goods or services in support of the worldwide narcotics trafficking activities of, and acting for or on behalf of, El Aissami, ” a top US official said in a telephone call with reporters.

El Aissami's USA assets were frozen and he'll be barred from entering the United States under the "Kingpin Act".

The Venezuelan government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Lopez said in a statement on his website late on Monday that the listings appeared "politically motivated".

The US Justice Department said there were no pending criminal charges against the two men.

Venezuelan opposition groups have long accused El Aissami of repressing dissent, participating in drug trafficking rings, and supporting Middle Eastern groups such as Hezbollah.

They said the president should impose sanctions on senior officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses. Mr. Lopez is a businessman who has known Tareck El Aissami for several years.

Mr Aissami was appointed last month by President Nicolas Maduro.

Since he became vice president, Mr Maduro has handed him control of an "anti-coup commando unit" to go after officials and opponents suspected of treason.

Venezuela has been under a state of economic emergency for more than a year.

Tensions between the United States and Venezuela have been on the rise for years, and the countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.

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