The Trump administration released criminal charges against senior officials of the Venezuelan government, including President Nicolás Maduro, on Thursday, accusing them of playing a leading role in the country’s illicit drug trafficking.
Maduro “helped manage and ultimately lead” a criminal organization known as the Sun Cartel, according to an indictment released on Thursday. Under his leadership, the cartel “not only tried to enrich its members and strengthen its power, but also to flood the United States with cocaine and inflict the harmful and addictive effects of the drug on consumers in that country,” the indictment said.
An indictment in a Manhattan federal court said Maduro and other cartel members “used cocaine primarily as a weapon against America and imported as much cocaine as possible into the United States.”
The indictment marked a new low in US relations with Venezuela, which has deteriorated since 1999 when Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor, became president. He villainized the US and other countries that he accused of taking advantage of Venezuela.
The United States and Maduro have long disagreed about the country’s wide-ranging corruption. The Trump administration supported an opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, instead of Maduro. The United States is among more than 50 countries that have refused to recognize Maduro as head of state.
According to the lawsuits, Maduro personally negotiated several tons of cocaine shipments and coordinated relations with Honduras and other countries to facilitate the illegal drug trade.
During an online streamed press conference, Attorney General William Barr said the Maduro regime allowed members of the FARC terrorist group to “use Venezuela as a safe haven from which to continue their cocaine trafficking.” He said the group flies or ships up to 250 tons to the United States each year, which is equivalent to 30 million lethal doses.
The federal prosecutor has also filed criminal charges against 13 other current and former Venezuelan officials, including the President of the Venezuelan National Constituent Assembly, the country’s Supreme Court Supreme Court Justice, the Secretary of Defense and the former director of the country’s military intelligence.
“Maduro is currently in Venezuela, but he can travel outside of Venezuela,” said Geoffrey Berman, the Manhattan attorney who would give the United States the opportunity to arrest him. The State Department is offering a reward of up to $ 15 million for information leading to his arrest and conviction.
Maduro condemned the charges in a tweet. “As head of state, I am obliged to defend the peace and stability of the entire country, regardless of the circumstances.”