US charges Venezuela’s Maduro, other top gov’t officials with drug trafficking

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro

The U.S. government has brought criminal charges against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and several other senior government officials today, accusing them of involvement in drug trafficking, international media reports say.

According to NBC New York, Attorney General William Barr announced the filing of criminal charges against senior officials of the government, including President Maduro earlier today (Thursday).

Maduro and others “expressly intended to flood the U.S. with cocaine,” Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said. Prosecutors accused the Venezuelan officials of engaging with FARC rebels in Colombia as part of the conspiracy.

The U.S. and Maduro have long been at odds over the country’s extensive corruption.  The Trump administration backed a leader of the opposition, Juan Guaido, and says it does not recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s current president.  Tensions between the two countries began to deteriorate when Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor, became president in 1999. He villainized the US and other countries he accused of taking advantage of Venezuela.

Maduro “helped manage and ultimately lead” a criminal organization known as the Cartel of the Suns, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday. Under his leadership, the cartel “sought not only to enrich its members and enhance their power, but also to flood the United States with cocaine and inflict the drug’s harmful and addictive effects on users in this country.”

The indictment said Maduro and other cartel members, “prioritized using cocaine as a weapon against America and importing as much cocaine as possible into the United States.”

According to NBC, the criminal charges said Maduro personally negotiated multi-ton shipments of cocaine and coordinated relations with Honduras and other countries to facilitate the illegal drug trade.

Five other Venezuelans were charged in the indictment, including Diosdado Cabello Rondon, president of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly, Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios, former director of the country’s military intelligence agency and leaders of the FARC terror group, which became one of the largest producers of cocaine in the world, NBC reported.

Barr announced the charges at a mid-morning news conference streamed online with federal prosecutors in Miami and New York appearing remotely.

The State Department is offering up $US15 million as a reward for information leading to Maduro’s arrest or conviction, NBC reported.