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Montevideo, June 18th 2019 - 01:00 UTC

US announces criminal charges against Venezuelan industry minister

Saturday, March 9th 2019 - 08:16 UTC
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Minister Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah was accused of evading the February 2017 sanctions by hiring US companies to provide private jet services Minister Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah was accused of evading the February 2017 sanctions by hiring US companies to provide private jet services
Venezuelan businessmen Samark Jose Lopez Bello, also sanctioned by US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, was also criminally charged Venezuelan businessmen Samark Jose Lopez Bello, also sanctioned by US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, was also criminally charged

The US government on Friday announced criminal charges against a top official in Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government for violating sanctions imposed two years ago, when the official was accused of drug trafficking.

Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah, Venezuela's industry minister, was accused of evading the February 2017 sanctions by hiring US companies to provide private jet services, including for a Feb 23 return trip to Venezuela from Russia.

Venezuelan businessman Samark Jose Lopez Bello, an El Aissami associate also sanctioned by the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, was also criminally charged, as were several other defendants.

El Aissami and Lopez Bello, both 44, were each charged with five counts of circumventing sanctions and violating the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, which targets people believed to threaten US economic and foreign policy interests.

Each count carries a maximum 30-year prison term.

The sanctions against El Aissami were the first by the Trump administration against a top official in Maduro's government for alleged money laundering and drug trafficking.

El Aissami was accused of helping arrange drug shipments out of Venezuela, including to the United States and Mexico, through his control of a Venezuelan airbase and shipping ports.

“Enforcement of these sanctions is critical to the national security interests of the US,” US Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan said in a statement.

The White House no longer recognizes Maduro's government.

Friday's charges accuse El Aissami and Lopez Bello of illegally using services provided by American Charter Services of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and SVMI Solution of West Palm Beach, Florida.

The Justice Department said these services included travel to or from the Dominican Republic and Turkey, as well as Venezuela and Russia.

Victor Mones Coro, 41, who established ACS, and Alejandro Miguel Leon Maal, 51, who established SVMI, were charged with the same counts as El Aissami and Lopez Bello. ACS and SVMI were not charged, and did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Categories: United States, Venezuela.

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