Despite persistent denials of any wrongdoing from Caracas, US authorities are currently investigating Venezuela’s powerful parliamentary chief, Diosdado Cabello, and other senior officials over alleged cocaine-trafficking and money-laundering, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Citing more than 12 people familiar with the probes, the newspaper said federal prosecutors in New York and Miami and a Drug Enforcement Administration unit were gathering evidence from former cocaine-traffickers, Venezuelan military defectors and people once close to top government officials in Caracas.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, an ideological foe of Washington, is not a target of the US investigation, the Journal said.
Venezuelan opposition leaders and US officials have made accusations for years of money-laundering and drug-trafficking against the governments of Maduro and predecessor Hugo Chavez. Officials in Caracas though call them unfounded smears that are part of a wider Washington-led campaign to end the OPEC country’s 16 years of 'socialist' rule.
Spanish newspaper ABC reported in January that a former member of Cabello’s security detail had fled Venezuela and had told US authorities that he was involved in a drug ring. Cabello, National Assembly president and the second-highest ranking member of the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV), filed a defamation suit last month against 22 people linked to three media outlets for having republished information from that story and repeating the claims.
“They accused me of being a drug-trafficker without any proof,” he said on state TV last week, as he defended asking for a now-enforced judicial ruling declaring the 22 may not leave the country.
In its report, the Journal quoted a “Justice Department official and other US authorities” who said Cabello was “a main target” of the probe, adding there was “extensive evidence” to suggest he was one of the heads of a suspected trafficking cartel involving military officers and top government officials.
“It’s a criminal organization,” the unidentified Justice Department official reportedly told the US newspaper. “There is extensive evidence to justify that he is one of the heads, if not the head, of the cartel,” the source told the Journal. “He certainly is a main target.”
The newspaper quoted US authorities as saying their investigations were far along but that any indictments might be sealed until arrests were made. Such arrests could be impossible unless the suspects left Venezuela, the newspaper added.